During a news conference in Japan, Ichiro Suzuki said it is annoying to be asked about his age. This just makes him the same as nearly everyone else. A lot of people get a little sensitive when their next birthday is the big 4-0.
But it is relevant when trying to figure out what the Yankees have bought themselves for $13 million and a two-year commitment. Is Ichiro the guy the Yankees only had to give up D.J. Mitchell and Danny Farquhar to acquire? Is he the guy they had to warn might bat ninth or not even play on a lot of days?
Or is he the .322 hitter the Yankees saw in his 67 games with the team?
I love covering Ichiro because he is fascinating, but I'm not sure how good he will be in 2013. He is an all-time great, with unique style and quirks -- like his incessant stretching. I'm already on record saying he is not as good as Nick Swisher. But nearly 80 percent of the more than 7,000 votes in our recent poll favored the 39-year-old Ichiro over the 32-year-old Swisher.
I'll grant you Ichiro is the better defender. But here are three points of concern about an aging Ichiro at the plate:
1. LIMITED POWER: The misconception about the coverage of the team last season was that reporters and columnists wrote the Yankees hit too many homers. No one said that. What people did say is that the offense was not diversified enough. We can argue forever if that proved true.
But by going from Swisher to Ichiro, the Yankees figure to hit fewer homers. Ichiro could take advantage of the right field porch, but there is no proof from last season that it will make a significant difference. With the Yankees, he hit five homers in 240 at-bats. If we pro-rate that to 600 at-bats, it comes out to 12.5 homers -- or about half as many as Swisher's 24 in 2012.
2. NO WALKS: Ichiro is supposed to be a guy who scores a lot of runs by getting on base. This was quite true when he was hitting .370 back in the day. But even as a .322 hitter for the Yankees, his on-base percentage was just .340. He walked just five times. Swisher got on base at a .364 clip in 2012.
3. N(OPS): Ichiro's OPS of .696 was 49th among outfielders. Guys like Shane Victorino, Michael Saunders and Coco Crisp were ahead of him. Offensively, Ichiro probably isn't as bad as he was the past two years in Seattle. He may not be as good as he was during his three months with the Yankees last season. So we are looking at another Yankee trying to defy the aging process.
4. STOLEN SPEED: Ichiro stole 29 bases and was caught only seven times in 2012, which is not too shabby. Still, it was the second-lowest single-season number of steals in his major league career. Will that number improve the year of his 40th birthday?
QUESTION: What would you consider a good year for Ichiro offensively?