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What if the Yankees had traded Ichiro?

It's been recently leaked that the Yankees allegedly tried to dump Ichiro on to the Houston Astros. What would have happened if a similar deal got done?

Jim McIsaac

As Jason previously reported, communication logs from the Astros' front office have been leaked, a few of which involve the Yankees' Assistant General Manager Billy Eppler and General Manager Brian Cashman. Namely, the Yankees had inquired about sending Ichiro Suzuki to the Astros. The Yankees were so willing to get this deal done that they offered to reduce Ichiro's remaining salary to $2 million in 2014. What the Yankees' front office wanted in return is still unknown. This is all predicated on that this is true and that these talks were serious. Eppler and Cashman may have inquired about this type of deal with a number of teams, and they also may have been testing the waters to see what they could get in return.

There was plenty of talk about this type of trade in the offseason, especially after the Yankees had signed both Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran. Brett Gardner's contract was then extended and there was a general commitment to Alfonso Soriano after having a spectacular end to his 2013 campaign. It seemed like there was no room for Ichiro; at the time, that seemed correct. Since then, things have changed. The Yankees discovered a bone spur in Beltran's arm, and Soriano has basically turned into a pumpkin. What would have happened if the Yankees did get rid of Ichiro?

There were two general arguments in the offseason: trade from depth, or hold on to depth in case of under-performance and/or injury. I sat on the fence but probably leaned towards trading Ichiro with the amount of holes in the roster. Considering that no team was willing to give up legitimate, Major League talent, returns would have been in the form of minor league depth, a reliever, or cash considerations. Considering that, losses would have been greater.

At the plate, Ichiro had a great start to the year, but has since slowed with greater playing time (2013 was a fun time, as we know). From the beginning of the season to a month ago, Ichiro put up a triple slash of .321/.387/.369 (112 wRC+) in 93 PA, but with no home runs and only four doubles. Since then: .270/.304/.297 (65 wRC+) in 79 PA with only one triple. Offensively, the man has fallen off a cliff, while defensively, it's been a mixed bag. Depending on which measure one uses, he's either been well-below-average or merely serviceable. I don't take stock in either, to be honest. Single season UZR data is misleading, a stat that has him at -20.5 UZR/150, while Total Zone has him at -7 runs below average. rWAR has him at 0.7, while fWAR is at 0.3.

Inside Edge Data, which is more subjective, tells a slightly different story. He's converted 100% of his routine plays (48 attempts), 80% of likely plays (five attempts), 100% of even plays (four attempts), and 40% of unlikely plays (five attempts). According to that, it means that he's making just about all of the plays he needs to, and even a few that are out of the range of most. My hypothesis is that his UZR and TZ data is hurt by the fact that Ellsbury's range would take a significant cut out of his range factor. That's just a theory, though.

If the Yankees had traded Ichiro for a bucket of balls, they would have lost a decent backup outfielder. He's certainly better than internal options like Zoilo Almonte, and the team would have had to eat most of his salary anyway. He's been slightly above replacement level, but I doubt that any return would have yielded something better. He certainly does not have the stamina to play everyday anymore--as his diminishing batting line has shown--but a spot start is useful. With Beltran unable to play right field for the foreseeable future and with Soriano as a non-entity, Ichiro has proved that he serves a purpose on the roster. The argument that the Yankees' outfield depth should be held on to has held up, it seems.