1:40 pm Dec. 14, 2012
When the New York Yankees acquired Ichiro Suzuki last July, he fit perfectly into the organization's decades-long tradition of adding once-great players to squeeze the last bit of excellence from their careers.
Suzuki, a first-ballot Hall of Famer, had won ten Gold Gloves, hit .322, and managed to collect more than 2,500 hits in the major leagues when the Yankees got him. That's impressive on its own, but more so when considering that he only came to the the major leagues after an iconic ten-year career in Japan. His combined totals would put him in some extremely elite company.
But Suzuki had struggled in his final two seasons with the Seattle Mariners. His O.P.S.+, which is at 113 for his career, dropped to 86 in 2011, and was at 84 in 2012 when the Yankees acquired him. The defense was still fine, but no loger excellent. So he was a corner outfielder with inadequate offense and defense that didn't quite make up for it.
Still, the trade made sense. The Yankees needed someone to play the part of Brett Gardner, who was injured, and Suzuki presented no long-term commitment, with his contract set to expire after the season.
He even managed to match his career norms in 67 games with the Yankees, posting an O.P.S.+ of 114 and winning a few key games almost by himself.
All's well that ends well, right?
Well, not quite. a spirited bidding war for Suzuki's services ended with the Yankees getting him for two years, $13 million. As of right now, he's penciled in as the everyday right fielder.
For this deal to make sense for the Yankees, Suzuki needs to be the player he was in a Yankee uniform for 67 games, and neither the player he was collectively in 2012, or for the duration of 2011-12.
And while it is tempting to believe that Suzuki, one of the most exciting players to watch in recent years, will manage to buck the odds, but the Yankees seem just as likely to get the lesser version of him, considering that he turned 39 in October. They may be paying $13 million for the privilege of seeing his offensive and defensive decline up close.
Considering the team's decision not to match a similar offer in years and dollars for Russell Martin, a decade younger and a player who fills their desperate catching need, you've got to figure the Yankees know something about Suzuki no one else does.