David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991.
It doesn't take an advanced degree in sabermetrics to figure out that Ichiro Suzuki, at age 38, is trending downward by almost every measure imaginable. The Yankees are pretty familiar with thirty-somethings playing out the back nine of their Hall of Fame careers and they obviously realize Ichiro is approaching the tee at No. 17 right about now.
Before Ichiro switched clubhouses for last night's game at Safeco Field, the only number that reflected any trace of his former glory was the one he wore on his back for 12 seasons in Seattle -- the No. 51.
He was batting more than 60 points below his career .322 average. His on-base percentage was nearly 80 points off his .366 lifetime mark. And yet, Brian Cashman chose to pull the trigger on an Ichiro trade that sent two minor-league pitchers, D.J. Mitchell and Danny Farquhar, to the Pacific Northwest.
So what gives? Seven months after the ill-fated Michael Pineda-Jesus Montero swap with the Mariners, here was Cashman trading for a fading Ichiro presumably to improve a club that already was leading the AL East by six games? What happened to Shane Victorino?
But there's a handful of reasons why Ichiro could be a perfect fit for the Yankees, and not just because they need another speedy outfielder to make up for what appears to be season-ending elbow surgery for Brett Gardner. Judging by Ichiro's orchestration of his Seattle departure, and his visible enthusiasm during Monday night's news conference, this is a classic change-of-scenery trade, which often sparks a rebound in performance.
"I'm going from a team that has been having the most losses to a team that has the most wins," Ichiro said through an interpreter, "so it's been hard to contain my excitement in that regard."
Not the emotional farewell you'd figure after a dozen years spent with the Mariners organization, and for good reason. CEO Howard Lincoln, and later Ichiro himself, admitted that he asked to be traded during the All-Star break because he no longer fit into the team's rebuilding efforts. That turned out to be a win-win for both sides.
With Ichiro entering the final two months of his five-year, $90-million contract, and the Mariners' beginning to feel the pressure of walking away from one of the franchise's most popular -- and marketable -- players, dealing him now had to be a huge relief. That feeling appeared to be mutual.
"I began to think I should not be on this team next year when I thought about the future of this team," Ichiro said. "I also started to feel a desire to be in an atmosphere that I could have a different kind of stimulation than I have right now. If that was the case, it would be the best decision for both parties involved that I leave the team as soon as possible."
The Mariners did him a favor in that sense. Joe Girardi said that Ichiro will take over in rightfield until Nick Swisher returns from a strained left hip flexor -- probably Friday -- then switch to left so that Raul Ibañez and Andruw Jones can do the DH thing on a daily basis.
The Yankees had looked around for a Gardner replacement without really saying they needed one. But Girardi sounded as if this was more of a pressing concern than they initially let on when Gardner's surgery was announced last week.
"People have said, you have the best record, you're in first place, you've played extremely well, how exactly do you miss Gardner?" Girardi said. "Well, he's the one guy that creates and causes havoc on our club that we haven't had."
Ichiro's talents are no doubt diminished at his age. But after taking that walk down the Safeco Field hallway Monday night, and shedding all of that Seattle frustration in the process, Ichiro might be ready again to turn back the clock.