Archive for Ichiro Suzuki
At some point in the next few weeks, the Yankees will get around to acquiring a regular DH and a right-handed platoon bat to pair with their all-left-handed hitting outfield. They might even acquire a real starting catcher, but I wouldn’t hold my breath. The third base and right field holes have been addressed with the signings of Kevin Youkilis and Ichiro Suzuki, respectively, so the heavy lifting on the position player side of things is already complete.
Youkilis and Suzuki could not be any more different offensively, yet they both bring valuable skills. Youkilis doesn’t have the power he once did, but he’s still crazy patient and will provide tough at-bats each time up. Ichiro is a powerless speed-and- contact machine who puts the ball in play and dares the defense to convert it into an out before he reaches first base. Both guys are offensively valuable in their own way, and they both possess skills that allow them to hit in different batting order spots without looking out of place.
If the season started today, it’s fair to say that Robinson Cano, Mark Teixeira, and Curtis Granderson would occupy the three-four-five spots in the lineup in whatever order. The catcher presumably bats ninth. Assuming Derek Jeter‘s fractured ankle heals up in time for Opening Day, he’ll bat either first or second no questions asked. That leaves the Yankees with this basic lineup structure…
- Jeter or ?
- Jeter or ?
- Cano, Tex, or Grandy
- Cano, Tex, or Grandy
- Cano, Tex, or Grandy
- Not Russell Martin
One of those ?s will go to Brett Gardner, two others to Youkilis and Ichiro. The other goes to the DH, whoever that ends up being. Ichiro initially batted towards the bottom of the order after coming to New York at midseason, but he eventually hit his way into the two-spot behind Jeter. Youkilis, on the other hand, also hit second with the White Sox after they acquired him from the Red Sox. They both have number two hitter profiles, it just depends on whether your a traditionalist (Ichiro) or saber-slanted (Youkilis).
Before we move any further, let’s quickly look at some platoon data…
|wRC+ vs. LHP (2012)||wRC+ vs. RHP (2012)||wRC+ vs. LHP (2010-2012)||wRC+ vs. RHP (2010-2012)|
First off, ignore Gardner’s splits for this season because he barely played (only 37 plate appearances). Other than that, there are some rather drastic platoon splits here, particularly with Jeter and Youkilis. Those two destroy southpaws but aren’t nearly as productive against righties. Ichiro is worse off against lefties (especially of late) while Gardner shows almost no split. That info should be a consideration when Joe Girardi fills out his lineup card.
Given their mammoth production against southpaws, it seems pretty obvious that Jeter and Youkilis should bat one-two whenever there’s a left-hander on the mound. Assuming the Yankees sign a right-handed hitting outfielder to platoon with their left-handed outfield bats, that guy could hit sixth while either Gardner or (preferably) Ichiro sits. The DH goes seventh (that could be another platoon situation as well), the not-sitting outfielder eighth. That part is simple, but the lineup against righties isn’t as straight forward.
For one, Jeter’s platoon split is irrelevant. He’s going to bat first or second no matter what because he’s Derek frickin’ Jeter. Given Youkilis’ decline against same-side pitchers in recent years, he’s not the ideal two-hole hitter even though his production against righties is the best of the quartet’s over the last three seasons. Ichiro has the veteran clout over Gardner even though he may be a lesser hitter at the moment. Girardi could go with Jeter at leadoff and either Ichiro or Gardner at two against righties, or he could go Gardner or Ichiro at leadoff with Jeter at two to break up the lefties near the middle of the order.
Although Gardner is not the hitter for average that Ichiro is, he’s far better at getting on-base. He hasn’t had a sub-.345 OBP since his partial rookie season in 2008 while Ichiro hasn’t been above .310 (!) since 2010. The on-base split is even more drastic when we look at just right-handed pitchers, and you want men on-base for Cano & Co. It’s also worth noting that Gardner’s contact rate (90.6%) is actually better than Ichiro’s (90.1%) during the PitchFX era (2007-present). His strikeouts tend to be looking, as you know. Considering that Cano is likely to hit third and Girardi loves to split up his lefties, Gardner is the better choice to hit leadoff against righties even if he’s not the future Hall of Famer on a pricey two-year contract.
Everything kinda falls into place after that. Youkilis can hit sixth, the DH seventh, Ichiro eighth, and then the catcher ninth. Flipping Youkilis with DH is possible as well, though I’m working under the assumption that Granderson will bat fifth and the DH against righties will be a left-handed hitter. Gotta split dem lefties. You get speed and contact at the top and bottom of the batting order with the thunder in the middle against right-handers, but against lefties the thunder starts right at the top with this arrangement. Lineup things would change quite a bit if the ankle prevents Jeter from being ready for Opening Day, but that’s a not a problem worth worrying about yet.
To make room on the 40-man roster, the Yankees designated Jim Miller for assignment. They claimed the 30-year-old right-hander off waivers from the Athletics late last month. He pitched to a 2.59 ERA (4.74 FIP) in 48.2 innings for Oakland last year and owns a 2.42 ERA (4.42 FIP) with big strikeout (8.10 K/9 and 20.4 K%) and walk (5.12 BB/9 and 12.9 BB%) rates in 63.1 career big league innings.
Friday: It’s a two-year contract worth approximately $13M according to Heyman. Other teams, including the Phillies, reportedly offered two years and $14-15M, so Ichiro took a slight discount to return to New York. Heyman notes the team considered a one-year offer worth more than the $6.5M average annual value of this two-year contract, but apparently decided against it. I would have greatly preferred a one-year commitment given the 2014 payroll plan and Ichiro’s age. Sounds like the deal is still pending a physical.
Wednesday: The Yankees will re-sign Ichiro Suzuki according to Jon Heyman, Ken Rosenthal, and Craig Carton. The deal is not done yet because the two sides are still hammering out some details, but it’s only a matter of time before those are worked out. It sounds like there’s a chance he’ll wind up with a two-year contract, which would not jibe with the team’s “one-year contract or bust” mentality in advance of the 2014 payroll plan. The club will need to clear a 40-man roster spot once the deal is official.
Ichiro, 39, hit .322/.340/.454 (114 wRC+) in 240 plate appearances for the Yankees after being acquired from the Mariners at the trade deadline. He didn’t hit much in the first six weeks after the trade (.271/.297/.398 in 140 PA), but was arguably the team’s best hitter down the stretch in the final three weeks of the season (.394/.402/.532 in 100 PA). Ichiro hit just .268/.302/.342 in over 1,200 plate appearances from the start of 2011 through the trade, so the Yankees are clearly banking on him being revitalized by playing for a veteran-laden contender.
In order to facilitate the trade, Ichiro agreed to a set of conditions that included batting lower in the order and sitting against tough lefties. He earned a higher slot in the lineup and full-time at-bats later in the season, but it remains to be seen how the Yankees will use him going forward. Does he automatically hit first or second and play everyday based on the strength of his strong finish? Or will he essentially have to re-prove himself and start the year at the bottom of the order and on the bench against tough lefties? I’d prefer the latter, but that’s just me.
One thing the Yankees will clearly get with Ichiro is premium defense. He’ll slide back into his natural right field position and provide both range and a strong arm (even if it takes him forever to actually throw the ball), giving the team its best defensive outfield alignment in quite some time. Ichiro is also a true global superstar who transcends baseball. This financial impact is often overstated (as we learned during the Hideki Matsui years), but there are plenty of marketing and merchandising dollars to be made by having him on the roster. It’s also worth noting that Ichiro is only 394 hits away from 3,000 for his MLB career, though reaching that milestone within the next two years seems unlikely.
With Kevin Youkilis on board and Ichiro on his way back, the Yankees addressed two of their biggest position player needs this week. They still lack a starting-caliber catcher and need a DH, but one will be far easier to find than the other. It’s also imperative that they find a right-handed hitting outfielder since they now have three left-handed starters who had varying degrees of success against southpaws over the last three years — Ichiro (87 wRC+), Brett Gardner (103 wRC+), and Curtis Granderson (112 wRC+). Scott Hairston seems to the be the only viable free agent option for that role, but a trade is always possible.
Via Joel Sherman & Jon Heyman: The Yankees are positive they will re-sign Ichiro Suzuki, but it’s going to take a two-year contract because the Phillies offered him two years and $7M annually. George King reports that a few other clubs made two-year offers as well, and the two sides are talking about a $12-13M guarantee.
I didn’t love the idea of re-signing Ichiro to be the full-time right fielder to start with, but giving him two years would be pretty terrible in my opinion. That goes double when you consider a) they didn’t bother to make a two-year offer to Russell Martin (who is far more difficult to replace), and b) the plan to get under the $189M luxury tax threshold in 2014. A 39-year-old corner outfielder who’s posted a 93 wRC+ over the last three years (84 over the last two years) isn’t deserving of a multi-year contract.
4:45pm: Buster Olney says the two sides are moving closer to a deal. It’s expected to get done in a few days.
I wasn’t a huge fan of the Ichiro move at the trade deadline and he obviously proved me very wrong with his play down the stretch, but I hope those three awesome weeks didn’t convince the team he still has something left in the tank. Ichiro is a historically great player, but he’s been pretty bad these last two years (.277/.308/.361, 84 wRC+) and is unlikely to improve at age 39. One defense-first player in the outfield is enough for me, no need for a second.
5:00pm: According to Ken Rosenthal, the Yankees are “showing strong interest” in Ichiro and are likely to re-sign him to a one-year contract. They’re also looking into trades involving Curtis Granderson, which we heard last week.
10:00am: Via Jon Heyman: The Yankees are still talking to Ichiro Suzuki about a return next season while also hesitating to show interest in A.J. Pierzynski. They view the long-time White Sox backstop as just an average defender, and apparently catcher defense has become a top priority in the organization over the last few years. Non-updates really, though I suppose at some point the Yankees will have to stop sitting on their hands and make some moves on the position player side.
All 30 managers meet with the media for 30-ish minutes during the Winter Meetings, and Joe Girardi held his Q&A session late this afternoon. It’s pretty typical of Yankees people to speak a lot of words but not actually say much, and this was no different. I don’t have the audio to share because the quality is awful, but here’s a recap…
- Girardi confirmed what Brian Cashman said yesterday, that A-Rod didn’t say anything about his hip until being pinch-hit for in Game Three of the ALCS. “His hips weren’t firing right. It wasn’t pain but he felt it was not the explosiveness … I was somewhat worried because he’d been through it on his right hip and you’d think he’d know what the feeling was like. It wasn’t firing the way he thought.”
- A-Rod went for an MRI on his right hip after the game, and when it came back clean Girardi kept playing him. He did acknowledge Alex “did look different than he did before he got hurt.” The team doesn’t know exactly when the injury happened.
- On losing A-Rod for the first half of next year: “It’s big. You go into an offseason and you feel you have to address certain areas and all of a sudden you get a little bit of a surprise. It’s a pretty big hole to fill, and it may not necessarily be (filled) with one person.”
- “I’m not sure,” said the skipper when asked about any tension in his relationship with A-Rod. “It probably answers a lot of questions — he wasn’t the Alex we saw before the injury. Now we have a reason, possibly why.”
A little more than a week ago we heard Ichiro Suzuki loved being a Yankee so much that he was willing to wait for them to handle other offseason business before seeing if the club had interest in re-signing him. Apparently he’s grown tired of waiting. “At the beginning we talked a lot but since that time, zero,” said agent Tony Attanasio to George King when asked about talks with New York. “As far as we are concerned we don’t care what the Yankees do. We have had conversations with multiple clubs. If we see something we like he will go through with it.”
This sounds an awful lot like a negotiating ploy — sign me before I sign somewhere else! — than actual frustration and a change of heart to me. King says the Yankees aren’t opposed to re-signing Ichiro to play right field, but he makes it sound like they don’t love the idea. “[We'll] move from the defense to the offense and engage all the players we have interest in and have interest in us,” said Brian Cashman to Anthony McCarron in response to Attanasio’s comment, essentially acknowledging that right field and catcher have become the priority since the pitching has been addressed.
8:36am: According to Nikkan Sports (translated article), the Yankees have re-signed Ichiro Suzuki to a one-year contract worth $5M plus incentives. Sweeny Murti, however, says it is just a rumor and not a done deal. No offense to the reporters overseas, but I have more trust in the local scribes. That price certainly passes the sniff test though.
Ichiro, 39, has indicated he “strongly wants to stay” with the team and is willing to wait for them to take care of other offseason business first. If the Yankees do bring him back as the primary right fielder, adding a right-handed hitting outfielder for the bench will be an absolute must. The same goes for a big bat at DH, because they’re going to be losing quite a bit of offense by replacing Nick Swisher with Ichiro.
Via George King: Ichiro Suzuki is willing to wait for the Yankees to take care of business with Mariano Rivera and (potentially) Andy Pettitte before seeing if the team want to re-sign him for next season. “There has been a lot of interest (from other teams), but he enjoyed playing for the Yankees so much it’s hard for him to say no to the Yankees,” said Tony Attanasio, Ichiro‘s agent. “His preference is to stay there instead of going someplace else, but we will wait and see.”
Ichiro, 39, hit .322/.340/.454 (114 wRC+) in 240 plate appearances with New York this year thanks in large part to a torrid three-week stretch to close out the season. The Yankees are said to have some interest in bringing Ichiro back, though it would obviously have to be on a one-year deal worth far less than the $17M he made in 2012. My guess is that Brian Cashman & Co. will seek a younger, more long-term solution in right field via trade before looking to bring Ichiro back should (when) they come up empty.