The Yankees acquisition of Ichiro Suzuki is a curious one. He has been a great player for many years, but contrary to what many fans seem to understand, he is clearly not one today. He has also not been one for awhile. In 95 games for the Seattle Mariners, Ichiro had 4 Homers, 28 RBI, and a triple slash line of .261/.288/.353 (mlb.com). That is pathetic…And he is playing right field, making it even more pathetic. He is also a 38-year old, who was a singles hitter to begin with. For the Yankees he has continued to hit poorly, as I expected, hitting .250/.268/.350, in 10 games, with 1 HR, and 2 RBI (mlb.com). A common thought has been that Ichiro could hit for power if he wanted to, but that is just utter nonsense. If he could now is the time to do it, because he has been pathetic since 2011. Last season, he hit just .272, with 5 homers, and 47 RBI, with a .310 OBP, and .335 Slugging (mlb.com). He is still a good fielder, but has even slipped in that department. He hit .315 in 2010, for his last good season, at age 36 (mlb.com).
This acquisition does not have to be a terrible one, however. If the Yankees are looking to have a good fielder in the outfield, with a weak bat and some speed, they probably have that. For the people who say that Ichiro needed to be energized by playing in a pennant race, that is ridiculous and is evidenced by his past performance. Seattle had losing seasons with Suzuki in 2004, 2005, 2006, 2008, 2010, & 2011 (mlb.com), before this year and these are Ichiro’s batting averages:
2004: .372 (Age 30)
2005: .303 (Age 31)
2006: .322 (Age 32)
2008: .310 (Age 34)
2010: .315 (Age 36)
2011: .272 (Age 37)
He was able to play just fine in bad situations, in the past. Did he suddenly lose his ability to cope with losing? It is doubtful, if not impossible. He is just in decline and a steep one at that, so people should forget about the Ichiro of 2001-2010, that guy is gone and never to be seen again. He could potentially be a useful player, but even that is not a guarantee. Anything better than that is next to impossible to expect.
The Yankees have a habit of doing this. The most recent example was at the 2010 Trade Deadline, when they acquired Lance Berkman to DH. At that time he looked to be done, albeit he had a good 2011 season. That acquisition also turned out to be a failure. Coming into the 2009 season, Berkman had a triple slash line lifetime of .302/.413/.560 (baseball-reference.com). In 2009 he slipped to .274/.399/.509 with 25 homers and 80 RBI (mlb.com). He was also forced to undergo knee surgery prior to the 2010 season and missed the first two weeks that year. Never the less he came back as a 34-year old, with bad knees and played 85 games for the Astros to start 2010, posting .245/.372/.436, with 13 Homers, and 49 RBI (mlb.com). The Yankees still acquired him, looking for an offensive spark. Just as Ichiro is currently doing, Berkman struggled to a .255/.358/.349 line, with 1 Homer and 9 RBI (mlb.com). That situation bears a striking resemblance to the acquisition of Ichiro and I expect it to bear similar results. One lesson that needs to be learned is: Do not acquire past-their-prime veterans, especially in the midst of a bad year, a decline, or both. The book is not yet written on Ichiro, but think the writing is already on the wall. Stay Tuned…