When Ichiro Suzuki was traded to the New York Yankees over a week before the trade deadline this season, one of the immediate concerns was how he would handle not being the number one player on the team. Could he deal with not starting daily, being shifted to a different position on the field and hitting in the lower portion of the lineup? He proved that he could put those things aside and slowly forced manager Joe Girardi into giving the 39-year-old future Hall of Fame outfield a starting role on a regular basis and he eventually moved Suzuki up in the lineup. Now, with the offseason upon us, Ichiro is showing some of the effects of not being a priority.
In the beginning of the offseason Ichiro and his agent, Tony Attanasio signaled that they understood the Yankees wanted to fill out other parts of their roster before dealing with position players. Attanasio contended that his client wanted a Bronx return via a column from New York Post reporter George King.
“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,’’ Attanasio said a week ago yesterday. “His preference is to stay there instead of going someplace else, but we’ll wait and see.’’
Now, the 39-year-old outfielder is feeling unwanted.
“At the beginning we talked a lot but since that time, zero,’’ agent Tony Attanasio said of discussions with the Yankees. “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.”
Ichiro and his agent need to understand one thing, the Yankees do not rush on anything, especially now when every move matters for this year and next. They have been a very deliberate team with each offseason by formulating a plan and sticking to it. The need to fill the rotation by signing Hiroki Kuroda and Andy Pettitte, plus getting Mariano Rivera on board, rightly took precedence over signing Suzuki or anyone else to fill Nick Swisher‘s vacated spot in right field. Brian Cashman stated:
“I’m really not in position to comment, but our focus was first on pitching and see the amount of dollars we needed to secure pitching,’’ Cashman said. “Now we’ll focus on players who want to talk to us.’’
Also, the Yankees have no reason to go completely in on Suzuki without checking on other options. This is especially true considering his signing would put two speed guys in the outfield (Brett Gardner figures to be starting in left or center). The Yankees will likely check the free-agent and trade market in the upcoming Winter Meetings to see if they can find a player with some pop for right field and try to determine their best course of action.
Suzuki was a nice addition and provided some spark on the bases which was missing with Gardner injured, but it is hard to completely discount how he had performed in Seattle since 2011 to the point of the trade. Don’t forget his 2011 season was not exactly spectacular — .271/.310/.335 — and he was hitting just .261 with a .286 OBP before the trade signaling an obvious downward trend.
Ichiro’s allure is the fact that he is at a point in his career where a one-year deal is something he’ll consider, but he’s not the only option and he needs to understand that he’s not nearly the player he was a few years ago or in his prime. He no longer commands the stage and threatening the Yankees will not work.