Commentary

Yanks may have struck gold in Ichiro

Suzuki gamble didn't cost Bombers much, but could result in a massive payoff

Updated: July 24, 2012, 3:07 AM ET
By Wallace Matthews | ESPNNewYork.com

At first glance, the acquisition of Ichiro Suzuki by the Yankees doesn't seem to make a lot of sense.

For one thing, he's a right fielder these days, and the Yankees already have one of those.

For another, he's a top-of-the-order hitter, and the Yankees are pretty well fixed for those.

And on top of it all, he's on the wrong side of 38 years old -- he will turn 39 during the World Series -- and most people think the Yankees already have too many of those.

But he's a future Hall of Famer, and right now the Yankees only have a couple of those, and best of all, he came cheaply.

Getting an Ichiro Suzuki in exchange for D.J. Mitchell and Danny Farquhar plus $2 million of salary relief is the epitome of the low risk, (potentially) high reward trade.

GM Brian Cashman has already done pretty well with moves like this involving Andruw Jones, Raul Ibanez, Eric Chavez, Freddy Garcia and the departed Bartolo Colon. So he deserves the benefit of the doubt that this one, too, may work out.

And then again, it may not, and so what?

For the Yankees, the worst-case scenario is that they go back to the left-field platoon of Jones and Ibanez, who have combined for 24 home runs, 69 RBI and 44 runs -- 20 more HRs, 41 more RBIs and just five fewer runs than Ichiro this season, incidentally -- and return to using their DH spot as a pit stop for their other aging stars, Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter, and occasionally for Curtis Granderson, who almost never gets a day off.

And if it does work out? Well, then the Yankees add one of the best pure hitters to a lineup that already has plenty of those, too. The Ichiro of 2012 may not be the Ichiro of 2001, when he was the AL MVP and Rookie of the Year, but if he returns to even a semblance of his old form he can be the missing part that puts the Yankees over the top this October.

At his best, Suzuki was the player the Yankees hoped, without much real hope, that Brett Gardner would someday become. And even if he can only manage to be half as good as he once was, he can add an element to their lineup that has been sorely missing since Gardner went down: speed.

Even in the midst of the worst year of his career for stolen bases, Ichiro's 15 steals prior to the deal immediately vaulted him to the top of the Yankee list this season.

That's why this was a good gamble to take, and may possibly turn into a masterstroke of a move.

Of course, not too many teams can afford to stockpile guys like Suzuki, who comes with the remainder of his $17 million salary, about $8 million, which will be only fractionally offset by the $2 million Seattle is sending along with him.

Then again, the Yankees can, and if Suzuki to the Bronx turns out as well as Willie Mays to Flushing, all the Yankees are out are Mitchell, Farquhar and about 6 million bucks. Chicken feed.

The potential upside, however, is significant.

The only major accomplishment Suzuki has failed to achieve in the U.S. is a World Series championship. If you are the type to believe in the "change of scenery" theory -- I'm generally not, for what it's worth -- then the chance of adding a world championship to his résumé may be enough to rejuvenate Suzuki.

And the truth is, he is likely to hit better in the Yankees' lineup, and in Yankee Stadium, than he did surrounded by Mariners in Safeco.

If he can adjust to a new position -- Suzuki has played more than 1,500 games in right, nearly 300 games in center, and a handful at DH, but not one regular-season game in left his entire career -- and a new spot in the bottom of the batting order, Ichiro might add a dimension that has been missing from the Yankee offense without Gardner.

The numbers this year have not been good -- a .261 batting average and a woeful .288 on-base percentage entering Monday -- and ESPN Stats and Info's Mark Simon has a blog item detailing Ichiro's offensive decline.

But Ichiro's history says he can be capable of so much more.

If he is, then the Yankees have once again caught lightning in a bottle.

And if he isn't, well, who really gets burned?

Wallace Matthews has covered New York sports since 1983 as a reporter, columnist, radio host and TV commentator. He covers the Yankees for ESPNNewYork.com after working for Newsday, the New York Post, the New York Sun and ESPN New York 98.7 FM.
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