Thursday, October 2, 2014
If the Yanks pass on Ichiro, Mets should pursue
By Steve Kallas (posted by Rick Morris)
While the Yankee season was much about the end of a great career for Derek Jeter, it might also have been the end of the Yankee career for a Top 50 of All-Time baseball player as well.
Yes, Ichiro Suzuki may have played his last game as a Yankee. And, yes, if you win 10 Gold Gloves in a row and get over 200 hits 10 seasons in a row, you are a Top 50 player of all-time (I believe there’s only one player in that club).
While not what he used to be, it says here that Ichiro has never received the respect he deserves from the Yankees, from the media and even from most fans. Before the season began, Yankee announcers on the YES network talked about how Ichiro was being showcased for a possible trade. Even early in the season, the announcers talked about how Ichiro might be traded to another team that needed a centerfielder.
At the time, given the make-up of the team and the high level that Ichiro was playing at, this writer could not believe that the Yankees would trade Ichiro (see Kallas Remarks, Yankees Should Trade Ichiro? Are You Out of Your Mind? 4/4/14). As discussed back then, with an old and/or injury prone group of outfielders (Carlos Beltran, Jacoby Ellsbury, Brett Gardner, Alfonso Soriano) seemingly ahead of Ichiro, you didn’t have to know much to know that he would get an opportunity to play this past season.
SO, WHAT HAPPENED IN THE YANKEE OUTFIELD IN 2014?
Well, you know what happened. Beltran played only 32 games in the outfield (76 as a DH) and hit .233. Soriano, after doing so much for the Yankees in 2013, fell off a cliff and only played 34 games in the outfield, hitting .221 before he was released. Ellsbury had a decent to good year, hitting .271 while playing 149 games in the outfield. Gardner, who must have played hurt at the end of the year, was having a good season but slumped badly late, playing 147 games in the outfield while slumping to .256.
Ichiro? Well, he started off like a ball of fire. But, then, at the end of June, he had to face questions about leaked reports that, not only did the Yankees want to trade him to the Astros (the Astros!) back in March, but also that they would have been willing to eat $4.5 million of his $6.5 million salary. Maybe the YES announcers knew this at the start of the season and that’s why they were making what turned out to be stupid comments.
You know the saying: sometimes the trades you don’t make are the best ones of all.
WHAT HAPPENED TO ICHIRO AFTER HE WAS ASKED THOSE TRADE QUESTIONS?
Well, in un-Ichiro–like fashion, he went into a dismal, month-long slump, batting .224 in the month of July to have his average drop to the lowest point of his season -- .269.
But then what happened? Well, Ichiro was arguably the best Yankee position player the rest of the season, batting .312 in August and September (finishing the season at .284 with 102 hits) and playing his usual very good to excellent defense.
As stated in this column back in April, Ichiro can’t hit like he used to, but he can still hit. Ichiro can’t quite run like he used to, but he can still get down the line and was an impressive 15-18 in stolen bases (an 83% success rate). He’s not the “Spiderman” of years ago, but he is still a very good to excellent defensive outfielder. He doesn’t have the gun he once had in the outfield, but he still has a very good arm.
If anyone tells you that old saying that players will play “to the back of their baseball card,” just show them the 2014 New York Yankees. It was an offensive disaster. Here are the Yankees with at least 250 at-bats and their respective batting averages in 2014:
Jacoby Ellsbury .271
Brett Gardner .256
Derek Jeter .256
Yangervis Solarte .254
Now it gets much worse:
Brian Roberts .237
Carlos Beltran .233
Brian McCann .232
Mark Teixeira .216
The team leader: Ichiro Suzuki .284.
Now, we know that Ichiro is not a good OBP guy (only .324 for the season). But, interestingly, his splits for leading off the inning were BA .306 (26-85) and OBP .359. In the only two games that he did actually bat first in the line-up, he was 3-8 (.375). While this is not a pitch to state that Ichiro should have batted first (his historical OBP did not warrant that), it must have been hard for a proud man like Ichiro to lead the team in batting by a wide margin while hitting, mainly, at the bottom of the order.
Couple that with the trade rumors that he was asked about at the very end of June, one can clearly understand why, when asked earlier this week about whether he would return to the Yankees, Ichiro made some cryptic remarks about how people don’t know about things that go on behind the scenes.
It says here that Ichiro wasn’t jealous of the Jeter farewell tour or even the fact that Jeter was locked in to the number two spot while struggling to hit in the .270s until that 0-28 catastrophe late in the year dropped him into the .250s. Joe Girardi said that he wasn’t hired to preside over a Jeter farewell tour, but, like it or not, that’s essentially what he did.
But Ichiro, correctly, might have been very upset with the trade rumors and the lack of respect he received in the line-up, despite producing for virtually the entire year.
While many “experts” dismissed him as an “old man” or a guy who was about to be traded (at least early in the year), the reality is that he was more productive and looked younger on the field and on the bases than most of the Yankee regulars.
SO WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?
Well, the Yankees should sign Ichiro to another two-year deal. He’s going to get 3,000 hits (he’s 156 away) in Major League Baseball, a stunning accomplishment for a guy who showed up in America at the age of 27. But the early tea leaves seem to read that the Yankees don’t want him back. Maybe he leaves of his own accord because he feels that he was treated unfairly by the Yankees.
If the Yankees don’t at least try to sign him, that would be a mistake.
IS ICHIRO A GOOD FIT FOR THE METS?
Well, the knowledgeable Met fans that I’ve spoken with tell me that he’s not a good fit. And, on paper, they are right. He’s not the OBP guy that Sandy Alderson likes to have on his team. He doesn’t have any power. He’s old (40). All true.
But put his bat in that line-up and compare him with everybody that the Mets have in their line-up. He matches up very well with, if not better than, most of the current Mets. Just as it was suggested here at the trade deadline that the Mets not trade Bartolo Colon so he can solidify a very good, young staff next year, Ichiro could be a calming influence in the Met clubhouse next year as well.
Wouldn’t it be good to have a future Hall of Famer in that locker room? Wouldn’t it be good to have a guy who has played 19 games in the post-season and has batted .356 with a .400 OBP in those 19 games? As recently as 2012, Ichiro hit .353 with a .389 OBP for the Yankees in the playoffs.
Doesn’t anybody know about these numbers?
The question isn’t why would you want a player like Ichiro in your locker room. The question is how could you not get him if he’s available to help a young team that has a real good chance to compete for a playoff spot in 2015.
Plus, if Ichiro does leave the Yankees (because either he wants to or they don’t want him), it says here that he will stick to that legendary regimen and have a strong desire to make the Yankees look bad.
And the Mets could certainly use a guy who is going for 3,000 hits in addition to, hopefully, being contenders for the next two years.
WHAT IF ICHIRO BEATS PETE ROSE’S HIT TOTAL WHEN ALL HIS HITS ARE ADDED UP?
Well, you can’t really compare Ichiro’s combined hits (Japan and MLB) with Pete Rose’s 4,256 hits in the major leagues. It would be a great accomplishment and Ichiro has a good chance to do it.
But, as great as he is, the real question is, if Ichiro had come to America at the age of 20, instead of 27, would he have beaten Rose’s record?
Of course, that’s an unanswerable question.
Here’s hoping that one of the two teams in New York signs Ichiro Suzuki, one of the greatest baseball players of all-time.
@ COPYRIGHT 2014 BY STEVE KALLAS ALL RIGHTS RESERVED