Yankees Hot Stove: Trading Ichiro's contract

Elsa

How much of Ichiro's contract are the Yankees going to have to eat?

The Yankees made a patented Yankee Mistake ® when they decided to re-sign Ichiro Suzuki to a two-year contract before the 2013 season that cost them $13 million for an outfielder in his age-39 and age-40 seasons. He may have looked really good in the half-season he spent with the team in 2012, hitting .322/.340/.454 in only 240 plate appearances, but it should have been expected that he wouldn't be able to maintain that level of production into old age.

In 2013, he actually had the worst offensive season among all qualified outfielders in baseball, hitting .262/.297/.342 with a 71 wRC+ in 555 plate appearances. The Yankees can not afford to give that much playing time to the former All-Star if that's the production they are going to get. Thankfully, they don't have to, now that they have signed Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran to push Ichiro to the bench. Still, the Yankees shouldn't be looking to keep him even on their bench, since Alfonso Soriano is more useful at this point and Kelly Johnson has experience in the outfield as well.

If the Yankees want to trade Ichiro, they're going to have to eat a lot of the $6.5 million they owe him as a 40-year-old fourth outfielder. He showed he can still be a Gold Glove-caliber fielder (9 DRS in 2013) and useful baserunner (20 SB in 2013), so at a cheaper price, they might get a bite. The thing is, though, how much of his contract will the Yankees have to eat? If we look to some of the other contracts they have either traded or acquired, maybe we can see just what kind of financial maneuvering will need to be made.

Before the 2012 season the Yankees traded away A.J. Burnett with two years and $33 million left on his contract. For the Pirates to take him on, New York had to pay $20 million, or a little more than 60%, of the deal. $11.5 million (35%) of it was paid in 2012 and $8.5 million (26%) of it was paid in 2013. If the Yankees agreed to pay 60% of Ichiro's salary, they would be eating $3.9 million and any acquiring team would be paying $2.6 million.

The Yankees took on two contracts in 2013 that had the trading team paying even more than that to get rid of their players. The Angels gave Vernon Wells away by paying a total of $28.1 million (67%) of the $42 million owed to him in 2013 and 2014. They gave the Yankees $9.5 million (23%) for him last season and are going to be paying $18.6 million (44%) for him this season. Using this model, New York would end up having to pay $4.3 million to trade Ichiro and he would only cost the acquiring team $2.2 million.

By midseason the Yankees traded for Alfonso Soriano, agreeing to take him from the Cubs if they paid $29.2 million (81%) out of the $36 million he was owed. Chicago gave the Yankees $16.2 million (45%) in 2013 and will be paying another $13 million (36%) in 2014 as well. Following this transaction, the Yankees would be paying $5.2 million to have Ichiro play for another team, with a $1.3 million price tag.

Mercifully, the Yankees only have to worry about one year, with a much lower salary involved, however, they will still have to find a balance between the amount of money they are willing to pay for him to play elsewhere and the money they can save against the $189 million budget. If the Yankees are trying to get under budget then they're going to want more of the contract to be paid, but who will want that? If they have to pay a majority of the contract, the savings could be so little that it doesn't actually help them, since they would still be paying him.

In the end, it will probably take something closer to the Soriano trade to get teams interested in Ichiro, so the Yankees might just think it's worth it to keep him as an option off the bench.

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