Update, Monday, July 23 at 9:58 EST: Ichiro will make his Yankees’ debut on Monday, against the Mariners in Seattle.
— New York Yankees (@Yankees) July 23, 2012
We’ll see if he stays in right when Nick Swisher returns, but look for him to be a fixture in the New York lineup in one of the corner outfield spots going forward.
Update, Monday, July 23 at 7:25 EST: The Yankees Twitter page quoted Manager Joe Girardi saying that Ichiro is in the team’s plans at left field.
Time will tell if that holds, but it appears as though Ichiro is at least in the short term plans for the Yankees lineup. For those of you unaware, the New York Yankees and Seattle Mariners have agreed to a trade, sending long time Mariner Ichiro Suzuki to the Bronx. The trade was confirmed on both the Mariners and Yankees Twitter pages.
Since Ichiro is owned in more than 95 percent of ESPN fantasy baseball leagues, this does carry a great deal of significance to many players out there. While the Yankees are a more favorable fantasy team than the Mariners (better hitter’s park, better protection), there is one problem that I see if you own Ichiro. Take a look at their lineup from Saturday’s game at Oakland, and how the players (plus the oft-platooned Andruw Jones and injured Nick Swisher) from that lineup stack up to Ichiro’s.
There are some negatives and positives to look at for Ichiro and his fantasy owners here. Let’s start with the bad:
Most of the best fantasy hitters bat at the top of the order, or heart of it. In addition to just being better hitters than those who bat at the bottom, they get more opportunities to bolster their numbers. The Yankees’ lineup can shuffle a little bit, but as long as they’re healthy, the top five will be Jeter, Granderson, Rodriguez, Cano, and Teixeira, even if the order of that fluctuates (which it can and will do). So, we’re talking about a guy who will at best be the sixth hitter, and when you throw Swisher in the lineup, he’s probably looking at seventh.
But I am looking at the left field and designated hitter spots and seeing room for Ichiro to be a constant player in the lineup. While the power numbers don’t stack up, Ichiro still gets on base at least as well as Ibanez, Jones, Wise, or Chavez, and moves around the bases significantly better than any of them (excluding Wise). It’s also worth noting that according to the YES Network, Wise will lose his roster spot to Ichiro.
DeWayne Wise was designated to make room for #Ichiro on the Yankees roster.
— YES Network (@YESNetwork) July 23, 2012
If I was managing the Yankees, I would make Ichiro my starting right fielder (moving Swisher to left), and bat him in the nine spot. Ichiro isn’t the player that he used to be, but he still has many qualities that are desirable for a lead-off man. In the American League, the number nine hitter is often another lead-off man, as they want someone dangerous on base when the lineup turns over. So, if Ichiro is on base and stealing his way into scoring position, the lineup is turning over to some of the best run producers in baseball.
On top of that, while Ichiro isn’t a power guy, the move from Seattle to New York will only help his power numbers. Yankee Stadium is friendly to all hitters, but especially lefties.
So on balance, I am calling this a good move for Ichiro and his fantasy baseball owners. If you’re in one of the five percent of the fantasy baseball leagues where he’s unowned, I would pick him up and put him in a utility or fourth/fifth outfield spot. There are places for him to play in New York (especially when you consider the DH), and the chances will be there to put up greater numbers with better protection. So while he’ll lose some at-bats batting in the bottom-third of the Yankee lineup, he’ll do significantly better for his fantasy owners.