Ichiro Suzuki began the season without a role on the Yankees. He had suffered through a disappointing 2013 campaign and the Yankees even tried to trade the future Hall of Famer before the season began. He was a fourth or fifth outfielder on a team loaded with outfield talent. Gradually, he was able to play himself into the lineup, and coupled by injuries to Carlos Beltran and lack of production from Alfonso Soriano, Ichiro found himself once again as the starting right fielder for the Bombers. However, the 40-year-old former MVP is starting to show his age and be exposed as he plays everyday. The Yankees need to limit that exposure by reverting Ichiro back to the platoon role he excelled in for much of the season. Now that Soriano is gone and Beltran is limited to DH duty, the logical platoon mate for Ichiro is switch hitting Zoilo Almonte.
Ichiro is 0 for his last 16. His average has dropped from .306 to .286 over that span. Every player has his hot and cold streaks over the course of a season, but older players have those streaks under a magnifying glass. An older player who is playing well is experienced, one who is playing poorly is simply old. One of the reasons, Ichiro may be struggling is the workload being asked of a player who is 40. While still a good player, Ichiro has certainly lost a step and his swing, while devoid of all power, is simply not the same as it was during his heyday. Ichiro can still contribute but he cannot continue to be an everyday player any longer.
Zoilo Almonte is a switch hitting outfielder with power. He impressed last season before being sidelined by an injury. When he returned in September and in multiple call-ups from Triple-A this season, Almonte has struggled for playing time. He has seemingly been cast into manager Joe Girardi‘s doghouse for reasons unexplained. He has managed only 25 at-bats so far this season at the major league level, and has not taken advantage of those rare opportunities thus far, hitting just .160 with a home run. At Triple-A Scranton, however, Almonte has proven himself worthy of a legitimate shot at the majors. In 67 games, he is hitting .280 with 13 home runs and 48 RBI. Production that ifit can translate to the big leagues would be greatly useful to a sputtering offense.
A platoon of Almonte and Ichiro would work out perfectly for the Yankees using reverse splits. Ichiro, although a left-handed hitter, is hitting .351 this season against lefties but only .278 against righties. Part of that is due to the smaller sample size but over the course of his entire career, Ichiro is still a .330 hitter against left-handed pitchers. Meanwhile, Zoilo has proven to be a stronger left-handed hitter than right-handed. He is hitting .296 against right-handed pitching and has hit all 13 of his home runs from the left side.
In order to make room for Almonte, the Yankees will need to send either Zelous Wheeler or Yangervis Solarte back to Triple-A, but their bench will become more balanced as they are currently are only carrying three outfielders. Beltran is limited to DH duty for the foreseeable future due to his arm. While Solarte, Wheeler and Kelly Johnson have helped out in the outfield, none of them can or should be counted on for more than emergency duty. A platoon tandem of Zoilo and Ichiro solves that problem as well.