It might be a little early to discuss off-season matters, but with the recent resurgence of Ichiro Suzuki in a Yankees uniform I think we all have to ponder if he will be in New York in 2013. It’s been a magical few months with the ex-Mariner superstar. While playing 95 games in Seattle, Ichiro struggled to hit above .270 and had an OBP below .300. In just 61 games in the Bronx, Ichiro has surpassed his Seattle totals by a wide margin. He’s hitting .330 with an OBP of .352 through yesterday’s game.
When Cashman made the trade back in July, I was okay with it. I wasn’t going crazy like the Yankees just received a 2004 version of Ichiro, but he was a solid pickup for what the Yankees gave to the Mariners in return. On a personal note, I had no clue that Ichiro had these numbers left in him. There were zero indicators that he would produce numbers like this in New York. In 2011, Ichiro hit just .272 after coming off a .315 batting average in 2010. That’s a huge drop off, and then to follow up 2011 with an even poorer performance through 95 games justified my opinion that Ichiro was on his way out.
Yet, that might not be the case. A change of scenery seems to have rejuvenated Ichiro’s career. Perhaps only something like this could happen to Ichiro in the Bronx. He’s been vocal about his love for being a Yankee and how much he respects the organization. Recently he said this to the New York Post to show how grateful he is to have an opportunity to play for the Yankees.
“This is a special time right now,’’ he said with excitement in his voice. “This is a special experience to play with Jeter and the Yankees. When I am an old man I will look back and say, ‘What an experience that was to be on this team.’ Before I die, I think I will remember this time and what a special time this is. That is what I envision what it will be like when I get close to dying.’’
Those are some really powerful words and it’s probably that passion that Ichiro has played with as of late that has helped him go on this tear.
It’s difficult to project how Ichiro will perform next season. He’ll be 39 years old with over 1,900 MLB games played in his career. He’s played in no less than 146 games since he’s been in MLB, which means he has some mileage on his body. That’s not even accounting for his time spent in Japan. Looking at this from an optimistic perspective, I can note that Ichiro is durable and can withstand the toll of an MLB season on his body at his age.
Ichiro is currently making $17,000,000 million this season with the Mariners and Yankees. Obviously, Ichiro is overpaid for his production on the field in 2012. To reiterate I pulled up this payroll efficiency site called Baseball Player Salaries. Check it out for Ichiro’s rating.
But next off-season Ichiro will be a free agent and won’t command as high a contract. He’ll likely receive a deal anywhere from $2-6 million for one year. This is very manageable and not too costly for the Yankees. If Ichiro’s numbers with the Yankees were to regress down a bit that would be alright. He looks unconscious up there right now. In a good way. In Ichiro’s last 10 games he has at least one hit in nine of them, including six multi-hit games. Which is good enough for a .378 average over that time.
Overall, what really determines if Ichiro should comeback is the other options. Right now the Yankees outfield in 2013 will consist of Brett Gardner in left and Curtis Granderson assuming the Yankees exercise an option on him. Nick Swisher will be a free agent at years end and is reportedly seeking Jayson Werth money, which would be in the ballpark of $126 million over seven years. The Yankees just don’t have that kind of money at this time due to their new self-imposed salary cap of $189 million for 2014 to keep the team under the luxury tax. If they sign Swisher to that amount, they’ll have little to no money to re-sign Granderson and Cano in the offseason of 2013.
Other potential free agents include Michael Bourn, B.J. Upton, and Carlos Quentin. These options would be cheaper than Swisher, but would cost more than Ichiro. Bourn and Upton would have to be converted to right fielders, making Quentin the only true right fielder of the three potential free agents I selected. Quentin would also provide the most power of the bunch; an attribute that teams want in their corner outfielders. Quentin has a .245 ISO in comparison to Upton’s .201 ISO. These players will also likely ask for more years on their contract which is something that Ichiro wouldn’t do at this point in his career.
Having Ichiro around another year would help Yankees prospects get more development time in. Mason Williams and Tyler Austin are most likely years away right now. The earliest I see them arriving in the Bronx is two years from now. One more year of Ichiro means more off-season flexibility in the winter of 2013. This is an excellent thing to have when two of your stars could be commanding giant contracts.
The final verdict? I believe the Yankees should bring Ichiro back to the Bronx in 2013. He loves it here and will leave all his efforts out on the field. He’s an excellent number two-hitter candidate if Swisher was to walk. Suzuki also can play all three outfield positions. Having hit machines like Jeter and Ichiro ahead of Cano, Rodriguez, and Teixeira would certainly increase run production too.
I’m all for re-signing Ichiro, but at the right price.