The Seattle Mariners announced this afternoon that they have completed a trade with the New York Yankees that will send 38-year-old franchise icon Ichiro Suzuki -- the franchise’s career leader in a number of categories -- to New York for two 25-year-old minor league right-handers, D.J. Mitchell and Danny Farquhar.
The move itself is unquestionably a good move from a baseball operations standpoint as the Mariners have more or less preempted what could have become an off-season PR nightmare by completely removing themselves from the decision on the question of what to do with Ichiro in 2013 (and beyond). And the manner in which they did it -- trading him at his request (more below, not a minor detail) to the clear front-runner in the American League and favorite for the World Series in the Yankees -- is not only a great move for Ichiro, but shows a lot of class and care by the organization in getting one of the best players in club history in the best possible situation to accomplish the one thing he could never get done in Seattle -- Winning a Championship. The Mariners may have lucked into the fact that the trade to New York coincides with the Bronx Bombers’ lone visit to Seattle this year, as ticket sales figure to skyrocket even higher than the usual Yankees series with this news.
As a player with 10-and-5 rights, Ichiro had full control on his ability to be traded. Mariners CEO Howard Lincoln said in the club’s Press Release that Ichiro approached the Mariners a few weeks back to request that the Mariners consider dealing him – a move that seemed all but impossible to most people for most of Ichiro’s career. Lincoln referred to the fact that Ichiro acknowledged that his place on this team wasn’t ideal in that statement by saying, “Ichiro knows that the club is building for the future, and he felt that what was best for the team was to be traded to another club and give our younger players an opportunity to develop."
As phenomenal as Ichiro was during the first 10 years of his Mariners’ career, he is more than a season and a half into his current “struggles” and is clearly in the downside of his career. Continuing that career with a team that is in a rebuilding phase like Seattle doesn't make sense -- for the player or the team. Especially considering how far Ichiro's offensive contributions have fallen off. But moving from playing his home games in Safeco Field -- the most difficult stadium to score runs in across all of baseball -- to playing in New Yankee Stadium -- which has proven to be a haven for offense in general, and to left-handed batters in particular -- along with moving from the last place Mariners to the first place Yankees could give the 10-time All-Star a jolt of energy that leads him to one of his patented Ichiro hot streaks over the final months of the 2012 season. Since being moved into the number 2 spot in the Mariners batting order on July 7th Ichiro had been hitting a little better, picking up five multi-hit games in his 12 starts, but his season totals are still way off of his career norms as the left-handed hitter has just a .261 AVG, .288 OBP and .353 SLG. In fact, going back to the start of the 2011 season -- Ichiro’s first season in Major League Baseball where he didn’t collect 200 or more hits -- Ichiro’s posted just a .644 OPS and hit a combined .268 in 256 games. Prior to the 2011 season, he had a .331 career average.
Ichiro moves on from the Mariners ranking first in franchise history in at bats (7,858) hits (2,533), triples (79), stolen bases (438), intentional walks (172, tied, Griffey) and average (.322), 2nd in games played (1,844), plate appearances (8,483), runs scored (1,176) and times on base (3,093), 3rd in total bases (3,283) and doubles (295), 4th in extra base hits (473), 5th in RBI (633) and walks (513) and 9th in OBP (.366). His 10 All-Star appearances (All-Star MVP in ’07) and 10 Gold Glove Awards tie him with Ken Griffey, Jr. for the most in club history, he led the AL in hits seven times, won three Silver Slugger Awards (’01, ’07 and ’09) and two batting titles (.350 in ’01 and .372 in ’04), was the 3rd Seattle player to win the American League Rookie of the Year (2001) and he won one of the two American League Most Valuable Player Awards (2001) bestowed on Mariners players (Griffey, ’97). In addition he broke the Single Season Record for most Hits in a season in 2004 when he reached 262 knocks.
Yankees manager Joe Girardi said that Ichiro will play mainly left field for the Yankees this season, a position that has been filled mainly by another former Mariners player, Raul Ibanez, since the Yankees lost regular left fielder Brett Gardner to injury. But perhaps fittingly, Ichiro is starting in right field tonight and batting eighth for the visiting Yankees. It will certainly be surreal for many to see Ichiro not only in a Yankees uniform, but as an opposing player in Safeco Field for the next three games.
Hopefully fans all got a chance to make it down to Safeco in this, the Yankees only visit to Safeco in 2012, to stand and cheer for Ichiro, acknowledging all of his contributions to the Mariners organization.
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