After suffering through the "old Ichiro Suzuki" experience that was a misguided two-year, $13 million contract, the Yankees made damn sure they weren't going to saddle themselves back up with the now 41-year-old outfielder. They went out of their way to re-sign Chris Young early in the offseason and leave Ichiro without a home. After months of waiting around, he finally agreed to a $2 million contract with the Miami Marlins as he continues his quest for 3,000 hits. To celebrate Ichiro's new contract not being paid by the Yankees, let's look back on the 2012 trade that originally brought him to New York.
The 2012 season was really the last hurrah for Derek Jeter and the Dynasty Yankees teams of the past. After a year that made it seem like nothing could slow him down, he broke his ankle in the playoffs that year and nothing was ever the same. Before the disaster that was the 2013 season, we had 2012 and the biggest issue was the outfield–namely left field as Brett Gardner missed a majority of the season with a mysterious elbow injury. With Gardner out, Raul Ibanez was turned into an everyday player, and while they still had Curtis Granderson and Nick Swisher to even things out, the struggling Andruw Jones proved that the team needed reinforcements, at least as far as defense was concerned.
That year, the Mariners were on their way to a last-place finish in the AL West and were looking to shed some pieces they no longer needed. While Ichiro was a future Hall of Famer and Seattle icon, he was also owed $17 million and by July, hadn't been good in a year and a half. Seeing that his team was looking to get younger and clearly wasn't going anywhere, he requested a trade to a contender as he looked for a shot at a championship for possibly the last time in his career. With their superpower to absorb any bad contract known to man, the Yankees became the perfect trading partner and they sent Danny Farquhar and D.J. Mitchell to complete the deal.
At the time, Farquhar was an intriguing 25-year-old reliever who showed that he could strike hitters out (8.95 K/9), yet had trouble with his control (4.05 BB/9). He had made his major league debut with the Blue Jays the year before, but in 2012 he was picked up off waivers by the Athletics, who in turn exposed him to waivers again and the Yankees grabbed him in June. Farquhar managed to get into six games with the Double-A Trenton Thunder and one game with Triple-A Scranton before he was shipped off to Seattle and his fourth team of the season. His trip around the league must have been telling of his true abilities as John Sickels of Minor League Ball felt at the time of the trade:
He likes to alter his arm slots and will throw anywhere from three-quarters to almost sidearm. His curveball and changeup have their moments, and he has a chance to be a useful middle reliever.
At only 5'9", Farquhar was never considered very favorably by scouts. Essentially, he had an intriguing ability to alter his arm slot, but it was more of a gimmick than anything else and it would ultimately make him a mere middle reliever–very replaceable.
Drafted in the 10th round of the 2008 MLB Draft, Mitchell was a young prospect in the Yankees' system who got some attention as part of the group of David Phelps, Adam Warren, Brett Marshall, and Hector Noesi that made its way through the system, but was never really considered that big of a prospect in his own right. He produced a decent 3.52 ERA, but mediocre peripherals (6.9 K/9, 3.32 BB/9) in his four years on the farm, and while he was once complimented for his ability to induce ground balls, that talent slowly vanished as he moved up the minor league ladder. As Sickels described him at the time of the trade:
He has three secondary pitches with a curveball, slider, and changeup. None of them are bad, but none of them are excellent, either, preventing him from being consistently overpowering.
It seemed that while Mitchell was a homegrown asset, he was distinctly mediocre and only had a future in MLB as a reliever. Essentially, the Yankees ended up giving up two middle relievers for a backup outfielder who offered plus defense. Baseball Prospectus saw the deal as mutually beneficial for both sides. The Mariners got some potentially useful pieces for the future, and the Yankees received exactly what they needed, even if Ichiro was diminished from his former glory.
Does that mean that Ichiro has no value to the Yankees? Not really; he can still hit a little, can probably play all three outfield positions (even if it has been a while since he's played center field) long enough to spell someone for a few games, and has value off the bench as a late-game defensive replacement. He's probably not a bad fit for a Yankees team that frankly doesn't need a whole lot.
The actual dollar figures being moved around were then discovered and it kind of changed everything:
Yanks will play slightly more than $2 million of Ichiro's salary for the rest of 2012.— Jack Curry (@JackCurryYES) July 23, 2012
Only $2 million and two mediocre middle relievers for Ichiro? Sure, an older Ichiro, one who wasn't very good with the bat anymore, but still the defensive outfielder they really needed at the time. It was a good deal for New York and Pinstripe Alley, after they got over the shock of the deal, seemed to agree:
That year, Ichiro finished with six Defensive Runs Saved and a 13.2 UZR/150, while Ibanez had a disgustingly impressive -5 DRS and 2.4 UZR/150.
At a time when Yankees fans were afraid the team would trade away the next best prospect–remember, the Jesus Montero trade was still fresh in everyone's mind and heart, and Austin Jackson was still a subject of debate–it was nice to see them get a solid piece without surrendering someone like Dellin Betances, Mason Williams (lol), or Manny Banuelos (too soon?).
And how right he was. Ichiro surprised everyone and came up big. The rest of the thread consisted of bickering, trolling, hot stove talk, and some funny comments when looked at 2.5 years later, like this one:
What the Yankees ended up getting out of Ichiro was much more than anyone ever expected. They needed to get Ibanez out of the outfield and Ichiro provided incredible defense, as expected, but he gave a lot more too. With Gardner missing, Alex Rodriguez would have led the team with only 13 stolen bases in a year where the team had 93 total (22nd overall), but Ichiro managed to steal 14 bases in only two months. He also hit .322/.340/.454 with five home runs in only 240 plate appearances and provided the Yankees with an additional 0.6 WAR, which is pretty solid for a midseason acquisition.
As for what the Yankees gave up, Farquhar managed to have two pretty solid seasons with the Mariners over the last two years. He saved 16 games in 2013 while proving to be a strikeout machine with a 12.77 K/9 and was just as successful in 2014 when he had a 2.66 ERA and 2.86 FIP as a late-inning arm behind Seattle's closer Fernando Rodney. His 2.8 WAR over that time might make him the one that got away for New York, but the presence of Shawn Kelley (1.4), David Robertson (3.3), Dellin Betances (3.2), and Adam Warren (1.5) made the blow more palatable. Plus, with Chasen Shreve, Jacob Lindgren, Tyler Webb, and Nick Rumbelow ready to make an impact, the Yankees won't be missing Farquhar too much.
Mitchell, on the other hand, completely disappeared. After heading to Seattle, he appeared in eight games for the Tacoma Rainiers Triple-A team and never got a September call up. He was later designated for assignment only weeks into the 2013 season and soon caught on with the Mets. He started 11 games for the Las Vegas 51s Triple-A team and only put up a disastrous 7.42 ERA while allowing opponents to hit .359/.438/.536 against him before being converted to a reliever and allowing an even worse 8.13 ERA and .336/.415/.557 batting line. Not surprisingly, he got the boot two months after the regular season ended and pitched the 2014 season in indy ball along with his Bridgeport Bluefish teammates Casper Wells, Jeremy Accardo, and Dontrelle Willis. There, he could only provide a 4.63 ERA with poor peripherals (4.7 BB/9, 6.4 K/9), but still somehow managed to throw 155.2 innings, so maybe that helps him land a job pitching in Triple-A somewhere.
In the end, the deal was a real boon for the Yankees. They got what they needed, much more than what they asked for, and gave up nothing they would miss in return. Farquhar would have been nice to have, but they unloaded Mitchell at exactly the right time. The only way this trade ends up being a loss for the Yankees is if you consider it the precursor for the fateful two-year deal they signed Ichiro to after his dead cat bounce of a half-season. Since many believe that ownership pushed that contract on the team in hopes of cashing on on his chase for 3,000 hits, it's likely that such a deal was not in the cards in July of 2012. Ichiro ended up being a real liability for the Yankees when he continued to be forced into regular playing time after Curtis Granderson broke his hand twice (!) in 2013 and then again in 2014 when Carlos Beltran couldn't play the outfield anymore. That still doesn't mean that the deal that originally brought him to New York was anything less than what it was at the time–the perfect addition for a playoff-bound team looking for a short-term boost. Ichiro gave that and more, helping both teams out at the time.