When this season began, it looked like Ichiro Suzuki was going to be a fourth or fifth outfielder with the Yankees. Trade rumors swirled regarding the future Hall of Famer. The Yankees ended up hanging on to the former MVP and are thankful that they did. In limited duty this season, Ichiro has helped the Yankees in multiple ways, always answering the bell and performing whatever task assigned to him. He has provided excellent defense at all three outfield positions at various times this season. He has provided timely hitting as well, including yesterday’s two-run single off White Sox ace Chris Sale. Many players with a resume as spectacular as Ichiro’s would have scoffed at being a part-time player. Ichiro, always the consummate professional, embraced his role with the Bombers and remained focused on doing whatever he can to help the team win.
There are many different schools of thought on building a bench. Some teams prefer giving young players a taste of the big leagues for a year or two before they ascend to a starting role. Other teams stack their bench with players who have proven they cannot play on an everyday basis for one reason or another, usually for platoon reasons or because they are Quadruple-A players. Ever since Gene Michael was GM of the Yankees in the early 1990s, the Yankees have attempted to stock their bench with has-beens and former stars. The idea behind the tactic being that a former star has further to fall as he gets older than a someone who “never-was.” Dozens of players such as Tim Raines, Darryl Strawberry, Ivan Rodriguez, Jose Canseco, Andruw Jones, Tino Martinez and now Ichiro have been able to extend their careers and contribute to winning Yankee teams over the last two decades.
Ichiro has been able to provide the Yankees with late-inning defense, professional at-bats, and veteran leadership in the clubhouse. When Carlos Beltran was unable to play the field, the Yankees were able to put Ichiro in right field and not miss a beat defensively. Ichiro is no longer a .300 hitter, and has lost a step on the bases. When he plays too often, as was the case earlier this season, one can see a diminishing amount of value in his stop in the lineup. However, as a role player off the bench, picking the best match-ups to start and providing help off the bench, Ichiro has proven to be a valuable asset to this team.