According to Jon Heyman, the Yankees are willing to pick up some of Ichiro Suzuki‘s salary in an effort to trade the outfielder. At the moment, the Yankees have a full outfield sporting Brett Gardner, Jacoby Ellsbury, Carlos Beltran, and Alfonso Soriano. While Ichiro would be a strong defensive 5th outfielder and speedy pinch runner, his $6.5 million salary is far too high for his talent level. But his ability to play a respectable center field and bring in a Japanese media market could make him interesting to some teams.
Heyman suggests that the Tigers are one club that could use another outfielder following an injury to Andy Dirks. Their outfield lines up, at the moment, with Torii Hunter in right field, Austin Jackson in center field, and a platoon between Rajai Davis and Tyler Collins in left field. Jackson’s injury history, Hunter’s age, and Collins’ inexperience is something of a legitimate depth concern for the Tigers, which was why Heyman suggested Ichiro to Detroit in the first place. I’m not so sure that he’d be an upgrade over any of these players, but he’d certainly be a good enough outfielder to provide above average defense if any of these four were to go down.
The match that I believe makes the most sense is back in Seattle. After playing for the Mariners for 11 and a half years, Ichiro could return to mass fan and media appeal. A below average hitter won’t be much of a desire for the fans of Seattle, but seeing him splitting time could bring back his fanbase. The current outfield is filled with converted infielders, where Dustin Ackley, Corey Hart, and Logan Morrison will undoubtedly see some time in the corner outfield spots. Michael Saunders, who was one of the worst defensive center fielders in 2013, has likely lost his job to ex-Yankee Abraham Almonte, who’s hitting just .154/.222/.292 in 72 plate appearances this spring. Ichiro would provide the Mariners with a good center field glove, a leadoff hitter, and outfield versatility to give ample time to the converted infielders.
Another suggestion I’ve seen for Ichiro is Philadelphia. At the moment, the Phillies are hoping to start the season with Domonic Brown, Marlon Byrd, and Ben Revere in the outfield. Darin Ruf figured to be the backup until a rib injury shortened his spring, and now the team has to keep the unpopular John Mayberry around, who they planned to trade earlier this March. While Mayberry remains a superior hitter to Ichiro, the Phillies could use another outfielder to play center field, as the 36 year old Byrd figures to be the backup, and he’s 3 years removed from playing there regularly. GM Ruben Amaro Jr also has a disposition to grab ex-stars like Ichiro, which makes any deal all the more likely.
I’m sure there are a handful of other teams that could use Ichiro Suzuki as a defensive outfielder, as a pinch runner, or even as a marketing move. While his value seems little to Yankee fans, there are few players that bring the spotlight with them like Ichiro does, and how many center fielders will become available over the next year? The Yankees’ asking price is a prospect, and as shocking as it sounds, I could see that happening as teams realize what their rosters look like in this last week of March. The days of Ichiro in New York could be over, but what the Yankees would receive back could be a surprisingly useful player.