It’s not too often that the Major League Baseball world will be rocked by the trade of a player hitting .261 with four homers and 28 RBI. But then again, most players aren’t Ichiro Suzuki, a 10-time all-star, former AL MVP and easily the best and most iconic player ever in MLB to come from Japan. He will be a first-ballot Hall of Famer.
Of course, Ichiro was traded on Monday from the Seattle Mariners, where he had spent his entire big-league career, to the New York Yankees. It was revealed the Ichiro had a few weeks ago quietly asked the M’s to deal him to help rebuild their team and also so he could play again in a pennant race. Yet no MLB expert I can find saw this coming.
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The Yanks made the trade because speedster Brett Gardner, really the only true stolen base threat on the team, is done for the season. Plus, New York has had a revolving door in left field, and those left fielders have combined to be the second-worst defensively in MLB. Ichiro has slowed down as a hitter but remains an elite defensive player – he is second among all corner outfielders in runs saved.
Ichiro only had to switch dugouts on Monday as the Yanks are in Seattle. And it was presumed that Ichiro would slide into left field for his Yankee debut, but he played in right (he has never played left in a regular-season game but is still likely to go there when Nick Swisher returns from injury). Just like that, Suzuki went from last place in the AL West to first in the AL East. And he helped New York beat his former club by going 1-for-4 with his 16th stolen base. He hit eighth in the lineup, no doubt becoming the highest-paid No. 8 hitter in MLB history.
I see no downside to this trade as Ichiro moves from cavernous Safeco Field and a pathetic Mariners lineup to a hitters’ park at Yankee Stadium and a star-studded batting order. Ichiro is hitting just.214 at Safeco Field this season, with an awful.255 on-base percentage and .289 slugging percentage. In road games, Ichiro is hitting .296 with slightly more than twice as many stolen bases and 15 of his 24 extra-base hits.
It is true that Ichiro is on pace for his lowest season average and OPS – his .642 OPS ranks second-worst among the 35 AL outfielders who have at least 250 plate appearances. But the Yankees now have three players with at least 2,500 career hits (Ichiro, Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter), only the third team to ever boast that (joining 1927 and ’28 A’s). New York’s futures odds haven’t changed at the main books with this trade.
Bovada has released a few props on Ichiro’s stint with the Yankees. Let’s look at each.
*-What will Ichiro’s batting average be with the Yankees: “over/under” .270, with both at -120. Obviously, he is at .250 after one game, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Ichiro is platooned somewhat. Why? The lefty hitter is batting .236 against lefties this year but .278 vs. right-handers. The Yanks have the luxury of being able to only play him against righties – the Mariners couldn’t do that because Ichiro was such a star there. I like over here.
*-How many steals will Ichiro get: over/under 11.5, both at -120. As noted above, he has just five steals at Safeco this year compared to 11 on the road (counting last night’s game as a road game). The Yanks will no doubt give Ichiro the green light as they had just 51 steals as a team before Ichiro arrived. But I am not sure he will get 11 more in the Yanks’ final 66 games, especially if he is platooned a bit. Thus I would go under.
*-How many runs will Ichiro get: over/under 28.5, with both at -120. Ichiro currently has 49 runs (didn’t score Monday), but he should be crossing the plate a ton more in this lineup. Plus, the Yankees will be hitting way more homers than the Mariners, so it’s not like Ichiro will have to work his way around the bases as much. He doesn’t even have to average a half-run a game to go over here (if he were to play all 66 games): take it.
*-How many RBI: 15.5, with both at -120. Ichiro’s home/road split for RBI is 14 each. His high for a month is nine in June. Yes, he will have more guys on base in front of him, but Ichiro is mostly a singles hitter these days. I would go under.
*-How many homers: 2.5, with under at -165 and over at +135. All four of Ichiro’s homers have come against right-handers. His career high is 15, set in 2005. But with that short right-field porch at Yankee Stadium, I could see Ichiro going yard three times at home alone. Take the over.
*-Finally, will the Yankees re-sign Ichiro for the 2013 season: yes at even money and no -140. Reports are that Ichiro, a free agent this offseason, is a bit of a diva, so you know he probably will love the bright lights of the Big Apple. And the Yankees will love the marketing opportunities he provides. Barring Ichiro downright stinking the final few months or suffering a major injury, I do believe he is back in pinstripes in 2013.
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