Ichiro Suzuki hopes to continue to spray singles across AL East fields. (Image: Joe Nicholson-US PRESSWIRE)

New York Yankees Trade Analysis: Ichiro Suzuki

The New York Yankees stayed under the radar of the rumor mill and surprised everyone yesterday as they pulled off a trade for Seattle Mariners outfielder and ten-time All-Star Ichiro Suzuki. The Yankees sent minor league pitchers D.J. Mitchell and Danny Farquhar to Seattle in exchange for Suzuki and cash.

The Yankees were rumored to be speaking with several teams about outfielders over the last few weeks with the injury to Brett Gardner seemingly having no end in sight. Once it was ruled that Gardner would need season ending surgery after his third setback last week, it may have pushed Yankees general manager Brian Cashman to get more involved with teams, as there was uncertainty about how Raul Ibanez and Andruw Jones will hold up the rest of the season.

Word from the Yankees camp was the names they were being linked to; Shane Victorino, Justin Upton, and Denard Span were going to cost more than they wanted to pay in both cash and prospects for what would amount to a rental player.

At some point, Yankees president Randy Levine had discussions with Mariner’s president Charles Armstrong and it was made known that Ichiro requested a trade. The Mariners wanted pitching prospects and were willing to take on some of Ichiro’s remaining salary. The price for Ichiro, he of 2,533 hits at the time of the trade, could be had for less than any of the others mentioned above. The Yankees had stressed that any move they made had to provide more than a marginal benefit for them to make a move.

The Yankees are hopeful that Ichiro will undergo a bit of a resurgence now that he is on a first-place team versus wallowing in the misery lingering over the Mariner’s organization on the field. Let’s look deeper at what the Yankees had to give up and what they can hope to gain from the trade.

Mitchell was 6-4 with a 5.05 ERA at Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre this season in 85.2 innings. He pitched much better at the same location last season going 13-9 with a 3.18 ERA in 24 starts (28 games). He pitched in four games with the Yankees this season tossing 4 2/3 innings with a 3.86 ERA. Mitchell, a tenth round pick of the Yankees in 2008, is not considered a top prospect. On Baseball America’s website, they do not list Mitchell as a starter in a projected 2015 Yankees rotation.

Farquhar, a righty reliever was just claimed off waivers from the Toronto Blue Jays. He was drafted by the Jays in the same round and year as Mitchell. Once he was claimed by the Yankees he pitched in six games at Double-A Trenton and made one appearance with Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre prior to the trade. In total with the Yankees’ organization, he tossed thirteen innings, allowing zero runs, two hits, no walks and struck out fourteen.

So, the Yankees are giving up marginal prospects that possess some upside, but should be considered no more than that, as the Yankees did not project them into their long-term plans. In addition to gaining Suzuki, the Yankees will receive cash in order to offset the remainder of Ichiro’s 2012 salary, roughly $6.7 million. The Yankees portion for Ichiro will be about $2.25 million.

Here are Ichiro’s stats from 2011 and 2012.

We note right away that much of what is coming off Ichiro’s stick is not dropping anymore. His BABIP which was largely in the mid-to-high .300’s during his heyday is at an all-time low for him. The same can be said for his wOBA and RC+. Simply this is not the same man at the plate. His walk rate is lower than his career rate of 6%, which is of no surprise; he makes contact with virtually anything thrown his way. His strikeout rate is on par with his career total of 9.4%.

His contact rates are not far off his career numbers, but what is interesting is that in the last two seasons he has had a difficult time hitting the fastball. According to PITCHf/x data, he scores a -9.6 when a fastball is thrown to him this season. Last year he was at -3.1. In 2010 he was at 0, in 2009 it was much better (10.8) and in 2008 it was 11.3. In 2012, he shows negative values in all pitches seen, except sliders (1.3) and change-ups (1.1). So, in other words he is not handling pitches as well as he used to and all the contact is leading to more outs.

Ichiro Suzuki ponders what life with be on a playoff contender. (Image: Joe Nicholson-US PRESSWIRE)

Ichiro still moves well for a 38-year-old as witnessed by his stolen base numbers. The stolen base totals are good and the percentage is excellent, so he’s not giving away outs when trying to steal. In the field in 2011, Ichiro had a rough season according to UZR-150 metrics (-6.7), but is bouncing back with a vengeance this year with a 25.7 score in that department. The fielding metric was a major drag on his WAR total in 2011 and a large contributor to the increase seen thus far this season.

So, where do the Yankees see upside in the deal? They are obviously not getting the 10-time All-Star who sliced and diced pitchers for a majority of his time in Seattle. The positives Ichiro brings will only be evident when looking at the broad picture and that is this is not a blockbuster trade. Neither the Yankees nor the Mariners felt that way when hashing it out. This deal is a cash drop for the Mariners with a chance of gaining either major league talent for their own system or to use as commodities later. The Yankees see Ichiro as an ancillary part, not a savior.

He is going to bring the element of a speed game at the bottom of the order the Yankees were missing (notice I didn’t say NEEDED). Having a player who can cause problems for pitchers while on the bases, in turn creates issues for the hurler as he tries to concentrate on dealing with the power bats at the plate.

Another thing some are pointing to as a positive for the Yankees is Ichiro’s road splits in 2012. In 243 times at the plate on the road, his triple slash sits at .296/.313/.399 and while in Safeco he’s .212/.255/.289 in 184 plate appearances. I went one step further and checked out his history at the new Yankee Stadium and the rest of the AL East parks. See below.

Once I saw the career splits, I went ahead and looked at the last two seasons separately as well so that the naysayers wouldn’t claim the numbers were slanted from the good ol’ days. He’s had minimal plate appearances against AL East foes so far this season (except at the Trop where he did pretty well in 33 plate appearances) so the jury may be out. But, last season as a whole was not superior by Ichiro’s standards, and yet he fared pretty well at the AL East parks and the stats are representative of his career marks in each venue. These numbers are relevant as the Yankees still have 34 home games, 24 of which are against AL East teams and 17 of their remaining 32 away games are also against division opponents. I’m guessing Brian Cashman was well aware of this.

There is no doubt that Ichiro is not the same player he was even just a few years ago, but I think he can still be productive. Maybe taking on a role of one of the guys instead of “the guy” will alleviate some pressure? It’s possible the thrill of being in a pennant race as opposed to wondering if he’ll ever have a chance to win again will give him a boost. It’s plausible that the shift in venues will help.

In the end, the Yankees decided he was a player worth the minimal (for them) rental costs because he still possesses speed and defensive excellence; plus there is the potential to lift his offensive numbers due to the change in atmosphere and ballparks. Once Nick Swisher is back, Ibanez and Jones will be able to platoon from the DH spot and do what they were brought here to do, just hit.

Ichiro’s responsibility is simple, blend in and become a cog in the machine. His time carrying a team is long gone and he can now ride along with the rest of a roster. The Yankees know this and Ichiro knows this. Let’s sit back and see if it pans out.

Tags: AL East Andruw Jones BABIP Brett Gardner Brian Cashman D.J. Mitchell Danny Farquhar Defense Denard Span Ichiro Ichiro Suzuki Justin Upton New York Yankees Playoffs Raul Ibanez Seattle Mariners Shane Victorino Stolen Bases UZR-150 War Yankees

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