Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Yankees Roll the Dice Again

Talk about "What's wrong with this picture?" At ten o'clock last night I turned on the Yankee-Mariner game and Ichiro Suzuki was in right field – but for the wrong team! Turns out New York got the aging star for two minor league pitchers of limited potential. D.J. Mitchell was 6-4, 5.04 in Triple A this year. Danny Farquar, who had a cup of coffee with the Blue Jays last year, had 15 saves (in 18 opportunities) but an ERA over 4.00 in Triple A and over four walks per nine innings.

How will Suzuki help the Yankees, who are not struggling but did drop four straight in Oakland on the weekend? Before I say more about the trade, here are some of the other late season Yankee acquisitions.

In 1949 the Yankees, who were expected to win every year but had lost out to Cleveland in '48, picked up hard-hitting Johnny Mize. He hit just one home run in 23 games and batted just twice in the Series as the Yanks regained the world title. He would hit .400 in the '52 Series however.

In June 1957 the Yanks got all-star reliever Ryne Duren from Kansas City in the Billy Martin trade. Duren didn't pitch for New York that year but went on to great success in 1958 and after.

In 1979 it was a case of too little too late as a washed up George Scott was picked up after being released by the Royals. He hit one home run (his last) as the Yankees finished fourth.
In 1980 Gaylord Perry, who was 41, arrived from Texas and went 4-4 with a 4.44 ERA as the Yanks won a close AL East race but didn't pitch as New York lost the ALCS.

In 1993 Lee Smith came over from  St. Louis with 396 saves including 43 that season. He converted all three of his save opportunities. Frank Tanana, who was 40, came over from the other New York team and went 0-2 in three starts. The Yankees finished second.

At the end of July 1995 the Yankees sent three nobodies to Toronto for David Cone. Cone was 9-2 as the Yankees won the first Wild Card. He won his first playoff start and left his next one with the score tied as the Mariners eliminated the Bombers.

In 1998 in a trade so lousy that it was lampooned on Seinfield, the Yanks sent Jay Buhner to Seattle for Ken Phelps. At least Phelps hit ten homers in 107 at bats for New York. They finished fifth that year.

In June of 2000 David Justice came from Cleveland for three players. Though 34 years old he hit .305 with 20 homers. In the playoffs he hit three homers but batted just .206. He may have been the only Yankee in their history to have a wife hotter than Derek Jeter's girlfriends. And 36-year old Jose Canseco came over from Tampa Bay. He hit .234 with six homers in 37 games. The Yankees won the World Series, though Canseco batted only once.

On July 1, 2002 the Blue Jays sent Raul Mondesi to New York for Scott Wiggins. Mondesi had 11 homers and 34 RBI the rest of the way and got three hits in twelve at bats in the ALDS, which the Yanks lost to the Angels.. 

In 2004 John Olerud was released by Seattle at the beginning of August. He hit .280 in 49 games but hurt his foot in Game 3 of the ALCS. Tragically, the Yankees lost the next four to Boston.

In 2006, with Gary Sheffield on the shelf, New York got Bobby Abreu from the Phillies for prospects who never made it big. Abreu hit .330 with seven home runs and 42 RBI.

July 30, 2008 Ivan "Pudge" Rodriguez, who was disgruntled about being platooned in Detroit, joined the Yanlees and was platooned in spite of Jorge Posada being out for the season. Rodriguez had just two homers in 96 PAs and hit just .215. The Yankees missed the playoffs.

On July 31, 2010 Lance Berkman came over from Houston and hit just .255 with one dinger in 37 games. He hit .313 in the playoffs though as the Yankees lost to Texas in the ALCS. On the same day the Yanks also got Kerry Wood from Cleveland. He went 2-0 with a 2,64 ERA in 24 games including 21 straight scoreless appearances. In the post-season his ERA was 2.25 in seven appearances. There are the former late year Yankee deals. What about the future of this one?

Ichiro is having a dismal season by his standards, hitting just .263 – a far cry from the Ichiro of 2001 to 2009.  He leads only three other regulars in OBP and Slugging Percentage! Last year marked the first time Suzuki had fewer than 200 hits after setting the record for the most consecutive 200-hit seasons (10) and and tie Pete Rose's record of most 200-hit season  (also 10). He hit just .272 in 2011 and had the fewest home runs (5) of his career. He may hit a few out in New York though, he's hit more than ten homers three times.

There is no doubt he will help the Yankees defensively – with Brett Gardner out for the year and Nick Swisher having hip problems. Suzuki has ten Gold Gloves, which ties him with Ken Griffey Jr. and Al Kaline for most in the AL. (Clemente and Mays each had 12 in the NL.)  The Yankees will  have a lot of Gold in the outfield when Andrew Jones, who won ten straight in the NL, plays left. (I'll save you the trouble of checking – Curtis Granderson has no Gold Gloves.)

In my view Ichiro will be rejuvenated by playing in a pennant race and, with less pressure to do it all – and with stronger bats around him in the lineup - will at the very least make up for the speed lost when Gardner got hurt. Though he lacks Swisher's power, Raul Ibanez and Andrew Jones have plenty of that.

His 262 hits in 2004 was a record George Sisler had held for 84 years. Ichiro has had an amazing career, becoming only the second player (Fred Lynn was the first) to win Rookie of the Year, a Gold Glove, and MVP in 2001, the year in which he got his only taste of the playoffs. Yankee fans hope that when he turns 39 in October, he will be in the playoffs again.

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