The greatest baseball player Japan has ever sent to the United States became a Yankee Monday, about two years too late to help them.
The Yankees traded for 38-year-old outfielder Ichiro Suzuki, a Hall of Fame player performing at Hall of Tame levels.
If the Yankees were in need of a .260, singles-hitting, non-walking, declining star (they’re not), Ichiro would help. The Yankees said they made the trade because they need an outfielder. They still do.
Brett Gardner is out for the year and Nick Swisher is out for part of the week, but Ichiro is about out of time. If the Yankees looked hard for an outfielder and Ichiro is the best they could find, they need to expand their search.
This is the kind of move the Mets make in the offseason: long on volume, short on substance. Ichiro was once a great player — a career .322 hitter, 10 straight 200-hit seasons, 439 stolen bases, 10 straight Gold Gloves.
But for his last 1,083 at-bats — the 2011 and 2012 seasons — he’s been mediocre. Juan Pierre lite. Kosuke Fukodome without the patience or power.
Of the 155 major leaguers this year with at least 300 plate appearances, Ichiro is 141st in OPS at .640, some 140 points less than his career average. Of the 60 outfielders who qualify, he ranks 57th, ahead of only Brian Bogusevic, Jordan Schafer and Cameron Maybin.
If the Yankees wanted the best Japanese outfielder in the majors today, they should have traded for the Brewers’ Norichika Aoki. If they wanted a once-great Japanese outfielder, they could have kept Hideki Matsui. If they wanted someone with speed and defense who doesn’t walk, they could have played Dewayne Wise more.
Instead they dealt for Ichiro; in return they’ll probably get more attention than extra-base hits.
Give the Yankees this: like a bowl of miso soup, Ichiro can’t hurt. The Yankees didn’t give up anything of value –one of the minor leaguers, Danny Farquhar, has already been cut twice and will be joining his fifth minor-league team this season; the other, D.J. Mitchell, has a 5.04 ERA at AAA.
Maybe Ichiro will be reinvigorated in the Yankees’ lineup and return to his once-great form, like aging Yankees of years past. Like Johnny Mize. Or Johnny Sain. Or Darryl Strawberry.
Or Ivan Rodriguez.
Yankees fans are likely to react to Ichiro the way voters react to the candidate of their favorite political party: excitement at first, ebbing as flaws become exposed, to bewilderment, to asking whose brilliant idea it was to nominate/trade for him?
Maybe Ichiro will have a second act with the Yankees, introduce a power stroke previously seen only on Twitter and in batting practice, hit .300, play a Gold Glove outfield, steal bases and excite New York the way he already does his home country.
And maybe Eduardo Nunez will someday learn to field.