Archive for Ichiro Suzuki
Last offseason, the Yankees sought to improve their offense by signing big name free agents, and that led to both Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran wearing pinstripes. With Brett Gardner earmarked for left field and Alfonso Soriano in tow, Ichiro Suzuki was suddenly a man without a job. Not a full-time job anyway.
Ichiro had been relegated to a fifth outfielder’s role before pitchers and catchers even reported to Spring Training. He was going to be a pinch-runner and defensive replacement specialist. That’s pretty much it. To his credit, Ichiro didn’t complain about being forced into a low-profile role when Spring Training rolled around, at least not publicly.
“This is a place where the greatest players gather and play, so I’m really excited to play with those guys,” he said to Chad Jennings in February. “Obviously with the additions, I’m going to have to find a place for myself, but I worked hard this offseason. I worked on a lot of things, and throughout Spring Training, hopefully those things will come together and we’ll see where it goes from there.”
After the Yankees unsuccessfully tried to trade him — they offered to eat $4.5M of his $6.5M salary to send him to the Astros — Ichiro started three of the first six games of the season because Ellsbury’s calf was barking, and he went 6-for-13 (.462) in those three starts. He appeared in 32 of the team’s next 40 games, but 20 of those appearances came as a late-inning defensive replacement. Three other appearances came as a pinch-runner.
Suzuki batted only 69 times in the first 46 games of the season and he was damn good: .369/.406/.431 (139 wRC+). He had settled into his new role wonderfully. It was very reminiscent of the 1996-2000 Yankees, who had former greats like Tim Raines and Wade Boggs excelling in reduced roles because they accepted them. They weren’t jonesin’ for more playing time.
In late-May, the bone spur in Beltran’s elbow flared up and Soriano’s season-long slump started to become untenable. Ichiro’s playing time soon went up and his production went down as a result. Beginning with May 23rd, he started 45 of the team’s next 56 games and hit .236/.294/.279 (60 wRC+) during that time. That’s more or less what you’d expect considering he .262/.297/.342 (71 wRC+) as a full-time player last season and was now a year older.
The Yankees put an end to the “Ichiro as an everyday player” experiment at the trade deadline by acquiring Martin Prado with the intention of playing him in right field. Of course, that never really happened. Prado wound up spending a bunch of time at second base because Stephen Drew was so bad, so Ichiro played right field whenever Beltran’s elbow prevented him from throwing, which was basically all the time.
Even after the Prado trade, Ichiro still started 34 of the team’s final 54 games, including 19 starts in 26 September games. He actually hit quite well during that time, putting up a .312/.331/.384 (99 wRC+) batting line in 130 plate appearances. Suzuki finished the season with a .284/.324/.340 (86 wRC+) batting line and one homer in 385 plate appearances. His strikeout rate was a career-high by far at 17.7%. His previous career high was 11.7% in 2010.
Because of Beltran’s elbow and Soriano’s general awfulness, Ichiro started 94 games this past season despite opening the year as the fifth outfielder. He seemed to play better — both coming off the bench and in spot starts — in that role. Once he started playing everyday, it got a little ugly. Ichiro’s defense has slipped over the years — he’s still solidly above-average, no doubt — and it was even more noticeable in 2014. The guy turned 41 yesterday. What do you expect?
Ichiro told reporters after the season that he wants to continue playing, presumably because he wants to get 3,000 hits in MLB (he’s 156 away). He also cryptically referred to some clubhouse issues after Game 162 — “Obviously there’s a lot of things that go on that the fans and the media can’t see, that goes on inside (the clubhouse), but what I can say is that the experiences I had this year, those experiences are going to help me in the future,” he said to Brendan Kuty — though it’s unclear if he was referring to a widespread problem or his own unhappiness.
In all likelihood, the Yankees and Ichiro will go their separate ways this offseason. He’ll look for more playing time and the team has cheaper fifth outfielder options in Eury Perez and Ramon Flores, among others. Ichiro was pretty awesome in the second half of 2012 and again as a part-time player in 2014, but everything in between was not so good. Needing him to play so much this past season definitely contributed to the Yankees missing the postseason for the second straight year.
Following yesterday’s season finale, Ichiro Suzuki told Dan Barbarisi he feels great and strongly indicated he will continue playing. “Obviously there’s a lot of things that go on that the fans and the media can’t see, that goes on inside (the club), but what I can say is that the experiences I had this year, those experiences are going to help me in the future,” he said cryptically to Brendan Kuty when asked if he’d be open to returning to the Yankees.
Ichiro, who will turn 41 next month, hit .284/.324/.340 (86 wRC+) with 15 steals in 385 plate appearances this year. He seemed to be at his best in a limited fourth outfielder role. His production slipped once he was pressed into everyday duty. The Yankees will need a fourth outfielder next season like every other team, and the recently claimed Eury Perez offers a similar speed and defense skillset. It’s unclear if they’re open to bringing Ichiro back or if he even wants to be back at this point. He’s 156 hits shy of 3,000 and will probably need to play two more years to get there.
Via George King: The Yankees have placed Ichiro Suzuki and Brendan Ryan on trade waivers. The report is from Thursday, so both waiver periods likely expired already. Brett Gardner, Stephen Drew, and Martin Prado have already cleared trade waivers. As a reminder, trade waivers are completely revocable and the players can be pulled back if claimed. Friday’s mailbag had a trade waiver primer.
Teams put just about all of their players on trade waivers in August and it does not necessarily mean they are trying to trade them. Ichiro has value as a fourth outfielder and I don’t see him going anywhere at all, though I wonder if the Yankees would look to unload Ryan and the two years left on his contract (well, one year plus a player option) like they did Matt Thornton last week. Middle infielders are hard to find though, especially good fielding ones, so probably not.
Even though it is not really the halfway point of the season, there is no better time to review the first half than the All-Star break. This week we’ll hand out some simple and straightforward grades, A through F, for the catchers, infielders, outfielders, rotation, and bullpen. These grades are totally subjective. We’ve already covered the catchers and infielders, so now let’s move on to the outfielders.
Brett Gardner — Grade A
Through the first 94 games of the 2014 season, Gardner has been the Yankees’ best position player. The team got out ahead of his impending free agency by signing him to a four-year extension worth $52M in Spring Training, a deal that looked sensible at the time and looks like a bargain now given his production and the lack of quality outfielders in the upcoming free agent classes.
Among players with at least 100 plate appearances, Gardner leads the team in one-base percentage (.353) and total bases (146), ranks second in batting average (.279), slugging percentage (.424), stolen bases (15), OPS+ (116), and wRC+ (116), and first in both bWAR (2.9) and fWAR (2.7). He’s already set a career-high with nine homers. Gardner actually started the season in a funk, going 15-for-62 (.242) in the team’s first 18 games, but he’s hit .286/.366/.447 (126 wRC+) in the 76 games since. That’ll do just fine.
Gardner’s defense continues to be excellent as well. He slid back into left field seamlessly and has performed up to his usually defensive standards, which are rather high. Inside Edge data rates his glovework very well. The Yankees tried shuffling things around and actually started Gardner in right field during a game at Fenway Park in April, but that was a disaster. It looked like he had never played the outfield before. Left field is where he remains and whenever the need has arisen for whatever reason, he’s slid over and filled in at center without missing a beat.
The only negatives in Gardner’s game are his career-high 21.7% strikeout rate and career-low 11.6% stolen base attempt rate. The strikeout issue seems to have to do with him being a little more aggressive in certain counts and swinging for a fences, hence the homers. The stolen base this is weird — he ran in 14.3% of his opportunities last year and in 25.0% of his opportunities from 2010-12. Gardner is still on pace for 26 steals (in 33 attempts), but it appears his days of 45+ stolen bases are over. That’s a shame. Either way, he’s having an unreal season.
Jacoby Ellsbury – Grade B
As the story goes, it became clear to the Yankees they were going to lose Robinson Cano on a Friday, so they acted quickly to sign Ellsbury before a bidding way broke out. The two sides were in agreement the following Tuesday, and the Friday after that, Cano hooked on with the Mariners. The Yankees replaced Cano with the second best free agent in Ellsbury even though he wasn’t a great fit for the roster — they already had a perfectly capable speedy leadoff hitter and strong defensive center fielder in Gardner.
Ellsbury has been very good through his first season in pinstripes, hitting .282/.346/.400 (105 wRC+) with six homers and 24 steals in 29 chances. That’s right in line with the .289/.341/.407 (103 wRC+) batting line he put up from 2012-13 following his outlier 2011 campaign. Ellsbury’s power has not ticked up despite the move into lefty friendly Yankee Stadium and that makes total sense — almost all of his hits are line drives to left and center field. That’s not a bad thing, it’s just not conducive to taking advantage of the short porch.
As expected, Ellsbury has had an impact both on the bases and in the field. He’s on pace for 41 steals with an 82.8% success rate, which would make him the team’s first 40-steal guy since Gardner in 2011. The defensive stats hate Ellsbury this year and I don’t get it — it’s a Gardner thing, it happened with Curtis Granderson too, he must be stealing outs and hurting the center fielder’s defensive numbers — but based on the eye test he’s been phenomenal in center. Better than Gardner last season and Gardner was awesome.
Because of injuries and underperformance and all that, the Yankees and Joe Girardi have had to improvise with their lineup. That means Ellsbury has been miscast as a three-hole hitter for most of the year while Gardner bats leadoff. They really don’t have an alternative at this point. Ellsbury lacks the traditional three-hole hitter skills in that he can’t create a run with one swing, but that’s not his fault. He’s a leadoff hitter the team is asking to hit third. Either way, Ellsbury was pretty awesome in the first half.
Carlos Beltran — Grade F
Worst case scenario? Possibly. The Yankees signed the 37-year-old Beltran (for three years!) to be the middle of the order hitter they lost in Cano, but so far all they’ve gotten is a broken down former star who has struggled to both be productive and stay on the field. This is the position player version of Randy Johnson — the right player, only nine years too late.
Beltran has hit .216/.271/.401 (78 wRC+) with nine homers in 228 plate appearances this year while missing time with elbow, knee, and concussion problems. He has a bone spur in his elbow that cost him a month and will require offseason surgery. It has relegated him to full-time DH duty because he can’t throw. (He tried a throwing program but had to shut it down due to discomfort.) The concussion was a fluke injury that occurred when he lined a ball off the cage and back into his face during batting practice. It’s that kinda year.
It’s easy to forget Beltran actually mashed at the start of the season. He was hitting .298/.339/.614 (151 wRC+) with four homers through the team’s first 16 games, then he flipped over the short wall in Tropicana Field while trying to catch a foul pop-up, and has hit .189/.249/.331 (56 wRC+) in 193 plate appearances since. I don’t know it it’s just a coincidence or if he hurt himself flipping over the wall, but he hasn’t hit for nearly 200 plate appearances now. Clutch hits? Beltran hit that walk-off homer against Zach Britton but otherwise has a .156/.216/.297 (25 wRC+) batting line with men in scoring position and a .130/.241/.391 (55 wRC+) batting line in high-leverage situations.
Because he’s not hitting and can’t play the field — not that his defense was a positive, he hurts the team less as the DH, to be honest — Beltran has very little value to the Yankees right now. He could start hitting at any moment and it would be a huge help if he did, but the combination of injuries and age are working against him. Beltran’s first three and a half months in pinstripes couldn’t have gone much worse.
Alfonso Soriano — Grade F
Man, this sucks. Soriano was one of the most fun to watch players when he on a roll and having a full season of him was supposed to give the Yankees a big offensive shot in the arm. Instead, he put up a .221/.244/.367 (60 wRC+) line with six homers and an unsightly 71/6 K/BB in 238 plate appearances before being dropped from the roster roughly two weeks ago. He wasn’t even hitting lefties anymore (80 wRC+). That’s it. Without warning he went from 34 homers and a 121 wRC+ in 2013 to being done in 2014. Like done done.
Soriano started the year as the full-time DH in deference to Gardner, Ellsbury, and Beltran in the outfield. He eventually moved to right — he had never played the position before (other than Spring Training) and I thought he did about as well as he could have realistically been expected to perform defensively — once Beltran got hurt, but eventually he lost playing time to Ichiro and was pushed into the light half of a platoon. The Yankees released Soriano earlier this week and he told Marly Rivera he might simply retire rather than continue playing. It was not a pretty end.
Ichiro Suzuki — Grade C
The Yankees relegated Ichiro to fifth outfielder status with their offseason spending spree, and even that was only after they were unable to trade him. And yet, through the traditional first half, he has batted 220 times and appeared in 81 games, the sixth most on the team. He took over as the most of the time right fielder a few weeks ago thanks to both his strong performance and the underwhelming performance of others.
Ichiro is hitting .297/.347/.337 (90 wRC+) with six stolen bases on the season, though his bat predictably cooled once pressed into everyday duty. He went 25-for-37 (.373) with a 142 wRC+ as a reserve player during the first 47 team games of the season but has managed only a .259/.308/.289 (63 wRC+) line as a regular in the 47 team games since. Ichiro’s defense has been fine and he’ll still steal the occasional base, but that’s pretty much it. He’s a very good extra outfielder and a pretty terrible regular outfielder at this point of his career.
Zoilo Almonte — incomplete
I get the feeling the Yankees are not going to give Almonte an opportunity to show whether he can be of some use at the MLB level, even as a nothing more than a fourth outfielder. He’s been up and down a few times this year thanks mostly to Beltran’s injuries, getting into ten games and going 4-for-25 (.160) with a homer. Even with Soriano gone, the Yankees have opted to play Ichiro everyday and sub in Zelous Wheeler on occasion. Meh
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Coming into the season, the outfield was expected to be the strength of the team, and it has been. It just hasn’t been as strong as expected due to Beltran’s struggles and Soriano’s brutal ineffectiveness. Gardner and Ellsbury have been the team’s two best players all season and have lived up to expectations in my opinion. Everyone else in the outfield has kinda stunk. Getting Beltran back and producing at an above-average rate will be imperative in the second half. The Yankees will only be able to acquire so much offense in trades.
According to information allegedly leaked from the Astros’ proprietary “Ground Control” database, the Yankees offered to eat $4.5M of Ichiro Suzuki‘s $6.5M salary in order to facilitate a trade with Houston at some point before the season. They also called to ask about a trade involving Chris Stewart before sending him to the Pirates. The leaked info was posted on Anonbin and dug up by Deadspin.
We heard the Yankees were willing to eat salary to move Ichiro all winter, so this isn’t a surprise. Now we just know exactly how much. More importantly, holy crap someone leaked a bunch of trade chatter from a team’s internal database. It reads like a fantasy league message board too — we’ll trade our okay veteran for your top prospect, stuff like that. Here’s the link again. Make sure you check it out. This kind of leak should never ever ever happen.
11:03pm: Ichiro clarified that it is only his back. His knee is fine. He tried to get loose today but couldn’t.
10:55pm: Ichiro Suzuki is day-to-day with knee and back problems, according to Joe Girardi. He did not hit today and was not available for tonight’s game. Ichiro hurt himself trying to make that sliding catch in Sunday’s game. With Mark Teixeira banged up and Carlos Beltran heading for an MRI on his elbow, the Yankees are suddenly short three position players.
Via Jon Heyman: The Yankees are willing to eat some money in an Ichiro Suzuki trade in order to receive a decent prospect in return. He is owed $6.5M this season and is slated to be an extra outfielder who specializes in pinch-running and playing late-inning defense.
The Yankees have been shopping Ichiro for months and it wasn’t all that long ago we heard there was “nothing doing” regarding trade interest. They’ve been playing him in center field recently, presumably in an effort to boost his trade value. I dunno, I just can’t see a team getting involved without a sudden rash of outfield injuries, especially not if the Yankees are asking for an actual prospect.
Via Jon Heyman: There is currently “nothing doing” on the trade market for Ichiro Suzuki and it’s likely he will start the season with the Yankees. They’ve been shopping him pretty much all winter, but haven’t gotten any bites.
Ichiro, 40, hit .262/.297/.342 (71 wRC+) last season and has been pushed into a fifth outfielder’s role. He’ll be counted on to pinch-run and play late-inning defense in right, two things he should be quite good at if he adjusts to the reducing playing time. Zoilo Almonte could do the same job and maybe even do it better though, so if the Yankees find a way to unload some of Ichiro’s contract, they should jump on it.
Six questions and six answers this week. The best way to send us anything is with the Submit A Tip box in the sidebar.
Mark asks: After seeing the Giants end their brief mini-divorce with Barry Bonds this spring, do you think the Yankees should break the ice with Roger Clemens and invite him to an Old Timers’ Day? I would ask about inviting him to Spring Training as an instructor as well, but that looks to be impossible as long as he’s employed by the Astros.
I think these two situations are a little different. Bonds and the Giants were never on bad terms; he was at the ballpark all the time these last few years, and they’ve had him throw out the ceremonial first pitch and stuff like that. This spring is the first time he rejoined the team in an official capacity (special hitting instructor), but it’s far from the first time he’s been around the club since he was forced into retirement. Bonds still is and always has been beloved in San Francisco.
The Yankees have kept their distance from Clemens for whatever reason, maybe due to all the performance-enhancing drug stuff that went down after his career (which forced Andy Pettitte to testify). There was never any tension between the two sides, right? Maybe something happened that we don’t know about. I would like to see the team invite Clemens back for Old Timers’ Day — he did win two World Series, four pennants, and a Cy Young in pinstripes, after all — but it seems like he has been intentionally cast aside. I don’t get it. Am I forgetting something obvious? This feels like something that should have happened a while ago.
Dan asks: How aggressive are the Yankees being in moving Ichiro Suzuki? He’s a decent 4th outfielder, but it honestly seems like Zoilo Almonte is better at this point (and maybe you want to see if he can be an everyday player in the next few years). Would they be willing to eat more than half of Ichiro‘s contract to move him? Or in the alternative, move him for a similarly overpriced, underperforming player in a position of need?
The Yankees have been shopping Ichiro for weeks but I don’t know how aggressively they’ve been pushing him. We’ve heard they were open a trade involving a player making a similar salary (J.J. Putz, most notably) and I assume they’d be willing to eat part of his salary to facilitate a trade. Saving a few million bucks that could be put towards a reliever or a midseason pickup would be a net gain.
I think Almonte could step right in and do a comparable job to Ichiro, perhaps providing less on the bases and in the field but a little more at the plate (wouldn’t having a switch-hitter available off the bench be nice?). If Zoilo doesn’t cut it, maybe Russ Canzler or Dean Anna would. The Yankees have some options. Some team is going to lose an outfielder to injury at some point this spring (Cameron Maybin and Andy Dirks are already hurt) and that could result in more interest in Ichiro. At this point, I think they’re stuck starting the season with him on the bench.
Paul asks: The Yankees are hoping Michael Pineda gets the 5th starter spot. Let’s assume he does. Does that make the bullpen David Robertson, Matt Thornton, Shawn Kelley, David Phelps, Adam Warren, Vidal Nuno, Preston Claiborne? Maybe Nuno stays stretched out in AAA and Dellin Betances makes the team (though that leaves only one lefty in the ‘pen)? Any other potential BP arms I’m missing?
Joe Girardi has already confirmed both Phelps and Warren will make the team in some capacity, so if Pineda wins the fifth starter’s job, those two will be in the bullpen. In that case, I would think Nuno would go to Triple-A to remain stretched out as the sixth starter. Girardi has said they’re open to keeping him (and everyone else) as a reliever though. If Nuno goes to the minors, it would clear the path for Betances, Cesar Cabral, Matt Daley, Manny Banuelos, or whoever else in addition to Claiborne. Betances has performed well in camp so far but we still have more than three weeks to go before the last few spots in the bullpen need to be finalized. A lot can change.
T.J. asks: I know it is early, but with the close of Spring Training, there will be an inevitable roster crunch. Do you see some trades taking place for some relief, or do you think we will just have to risk losing some middle-tier prospects? No pun intended, but that relief, will probably turn out to be spots in the bullpen for non-roster pitchers.
The 40-man roster is really tight right now. Short of a trade that sends Ichiro or one of the catchers (Austin Romine? John Ryan Murphy?) away for a non-40-man piece, the Yankees are going to have cut someone who is potentially useful to clear a roster spot. Right now, the most likely candidates to me are Nik Turley, Ramon Flores, and Anna. That’s really it. There are no 60-day DL candidates right now either. The Yankees might have to clear 40-man spots for Scott Sizemore, Daley, or Canzler if they make the team, but otherwise they have enough 40-man pieces to fill out the roster. Eduardo Nunez could sit on the bench while Betances, Cabral, and/or Claiborne fill out the bullpen.
Spencer asks: Why did the Yankees not express interest in Chien-Ming Wang earlier before he signed with the Reds?
The Yankees had Wang in Triple-A for a few months last season, so they got a first hand look at him. He wasn’t very good (7.67 ERA and 5.42 FIP in 27 innings) with the Blue Jays after being released, and this winter he had to take yet another minor league contract. CMW will be 34 later this month and he has not been an effective pitcher since hurting his foot in Houston back in June 2008. Injuries completely ruined him. The Yankees gave him a shot last year but he proved not to be worth it. Time to move on, that’s all.
Bill asks: I’ve seen a lot of ink saying Masahiro Tanaka should be the third starter. Assuming CC Sabathia is 1 and Hiroki Kuroda is 2, shouldn’t the Yanks put someone between Tanaka and Kuroda because of the similarity of their pitching styles?
I honestly don’t think this is that big of the deal. The rotation will be thrown out of whack by off-days and rain outs and whatnot at some point in April, so it’s only a matter of time before Kuroda and Tanaka get separated. I think the whole “their style is too similar to pitch back-to-back” is a bigger deal within an individual game (replacing a fastball-slider pitcher with another fastball-slider pitcher, for example) and not necessarily day after day. Maybe it would be beneficial to split Kuroda and Tanaka up in the rotation, but I think that will happen organically at some point early in the season anyway. To be honest, I’m more focused on having Tanaka start one of the first three games of the season because I’d like to see him get off to a good start, which he is more likely to do against the terrible Astros than the slightly less terrible Blue Jays.