Friday, April 4, 2014

Yankees should play, not trade, Ichiro

By Steve Kallas (posted by Rick Morris)

As the 2014 baseball season starts, it sure seems like Ichiro is the odd man out in that overloaded Yankee outfield.  With the winter additions of Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran, as well as the four-year extension given to Brett Gardner and the amazing production of Alfonso Soriano, everybody seems to have written Ichiro off.

Well, it says here that, not only is he a key component in the Yankee outfield this year, they might want to hold on to him for a year or two after this.  All this talk, at least by the Yankee TV announcers, of possibly trading Ichiro, should stop immediately.


Well, all you had to do was watch Ichiro’s first 2014 appearance (in the Yankees’ third game of the year) to understand his value.  Subbing for Ellsbury, Ichiro went two for four with a single and a double and actually scored from second on a two-out, 40 foot pop up to just in front of the pitcher’s mound.  It gave the Yankees an insurance run in what would become their first win of the year, 4-2 over the Astros.

What could you see in just one game and four at bats?  Well, Ichiro got the start against a lefty (how many left-handed hitters get their once-in-a-while start against a lefty) and proceeded to go 1-2 against a lefty and 1-2 against a righty.  Equally important, if you understand  (many now do) the importance of being able to extend at bats in todays pitch-count world, Ichiro was tremendous yesterday against the Astros.

His first at bat was a six-pitch gem, culminating in a single to left (on a 3-2 pitch) in that classic Ichiro way – hitting a ground ball between short and third.  His second at bat also lasted six pitches (including two foul balls with two strikes) before grounding out to first.

His third at bat was a slashing double to left center on the fifth pitch of the at bat.  He would later bust it from second base with two out to score on a 40-foot pop up near the pitcher’s mound.  In today’s game, where running hard often seems optional, how many guys would have scored on such a play?  Answer, not very many.   His fourth at bat also was six pitches where, after fouling off two 1-2 pitches, Ichiro was called out on strikes.

To recap, that’s 2-4 with two runs scored and a total of 23 pitches seen in four at bats with three foul balls with two strikes (obviously extending the at bats) and a wonderful (in today’s game) hustle play to score an important insurance run.


Well, in an exhibition game against the Phillies late in the pre-season, the Yankee TV announcers discussed the fact that Ichiro was being showcased cause the Phillies needed a centerfielder.  Last night, during an Ichiro at bat, it was discussed on air that Ichiro could eventually be traded.


The Yankees starting outfield seems to be Gardner in left, Ellsbury in center and Beltran in right.  And that is an excellent major league outfield.  Soriano, who may or may not be considered the fourth outfielder (he certainly doesn’t compare favorably (defensively) with any of the starting outfielders or Ichiro), seems like the main designated hitter.

But let’s take a look at these guys.  Ellsbury played 134 games last year and 74 in 2012.  Gardner played 145 games last year and 16 in 2012.  Beltran, who will be 37 this month, played in 145 games last year and 151 in 2012.  Soriano, who has played in a solid 151 games in each of the last two seasons, is much better off as a designated hitter and is 38.

Ichiro?  Well, don’t let the fact that he is 40 fool you.  He played in 150 games last year and, in 2010, 2011 and 2012, he missed a total of one game in those three seasons.  His regimen is legendary.  His ability to stretch and stay in shape is unlike that of any other player.

It says here that Ellsbury and Gardner are fragile and that Beltran (at 37) and Soriano (at 38) are “older” than Ichiro (at 40).

Make sense?


That’s true.  Ichiro doesn’t throw as he once did, but he still has a very good arm.  He’s not doing the “Spiderman” thing by climbing walls anymore, but he’s still a vey good fielder.  He’s not a .325+ hitter anymore, but just watch his approach (like last night).  He will be fine as a hitter if given a real opportunity.  He can still run (20-24 in stolen bases last year).

And, once in a while, he can still, in the right situation, jerk one out of the park, particularly at Yankee Stadium.

So, on balance, he’s not the superstar he once was, but it says here that Ichiro is still a very good major league baseball player who can certainly help the New York Yankees.

To drastically reduce his playing time or to trade him (absent something incredible coming back the Yankees way, which is unlikely) would be a big mistake.

And, frankly, one of these fragile and/or old outfielders will probably have some kind of serious injury during the season.

The Yankees should not trade this first-ballot Hall of Famer.  He’s probably still better than even they think; all he needs is a chance to prove it. 


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