I don't mean in terms of production. That I can already anticipate. Every projection system out there has Ichiro Suzuki pegged as a below-average hitter again this year, hardly a shock when you consider his .281 wOBA last year and the age at which he'll play this season (40). The title of the post is more in reference to how Joe plans on using Ichiro this season and how much he plans on using him.
The Yankees' efforts to trade Ichiro have cooled down considerably from a few months back. Unless a team suffers multiple injury casualties to their outfield in spring camp, chances are they won't be able to move him before the start of the season. He's most likely ticketed for the Opening Day bench and a role as the 4th outfielder, but with Alfonso Soriano around and a much better offensive option on days where Jeter or Teix is DHing, Ichiro almost becomes the 5th outfielder. Joe simply can't afford to play him as a regular 4th outfielder when he's downgrading offensively at shortstop or first base. That would basically turn the bottom third of the lineup into a cakewalk on those days and give the team less of a chance to win.
Ichiro's developed a sizable reverse platoon split in the last few years. He actually hit much better against left-handers (.753 OPS) than right-handers(.590) last season, but his production against lefties is dwarfed by that of Soriano (.904) and a lefty hitter who can't put up an OPS over .600 against righties really shouldn't be in the lineup at all. The only real chance Ichiro is going to have to get some regular playing time, even by normal bench standards, is if 1 of the 3 starters gets hurt. That's a good possibility given the collective histories of Gardner, Ellsbury, and Beltran, but if it doesn't happen there probably won't and shouldn't be much playing time available for Ichiro. There's just nothing that he does better than any of the 4 guys ahead of him on the depth chart.
His speed is still valuable, and I suppose Joe could use him as a late-game defensive replacement for Beltran or a pinch runner for somebody in situations where it makes sense to get some more speed on the basepaths. But I have to think the days when he's penciled into the starting lineup are going to be few and very far between. The Yankees are essentially paying $6.5 million for a pinch runner and a defensive caddy on their bench this season, a bench that's already sparse in terms of offensive production. That $6.5 million could have been used to sign multiple players to improve that bench and instead it's tied up in a 40-year-old slap hitter who was only signed to sell t-shirts.
Overall, I think the Yankees have done a very good job rebuilding the major parts of their roster this offseason. Looking at Ichiro and how he fails to fit into this year's PT rotation, however, I'm reminded of just how horribly executed the last offseason was and I can't help but wonder how much better the club would be positioned right now had they gone about a lot of things differently. There's no reason he should be on this team right now. The fact that he is and really has nothing to contribute is a testament to how badly the Yankees' botched their payroll plans, however real or fake they were.
(Photo courtesy of the AP)