The Mariners were always nervous about making changes with Ichiro Suzuki. It took them several years to try him in center field, and when they finally moved him from the leadoff spot this year, they gave him plenty of notice to see how he’d react.
Now, with Monday’s trade to the Yankees, Ichiro’s world is about to be turned upside down.
In New York, Ichiro will have to…
1. Give up his No. 51
2. Play left field most of the time
3. Hit lower in a lineup than ever before
Taking the first of those, technically Bernie Williams’ No. 51 isn’t retired in the Bronx, though it hasn’t been handed out since he retired. It’s a given that it’s only a matter of time until it is retired, and thus, Ichiro isn’t going to try to lay claim to it.
The other two are on-field issues. Ichiro has never played left field in a regular-season game, though he indicated that he is agreeable to it. It will be more interesting to see how he handles hitting at the bottom of the order. At today’s press conference, manager Joe Girardi said he wanted to talk to Ichiro about the lineup before making any announcements. Odds are that Ichiro is going to hit ninth most of the time, just like Brett Gardner did before he got hurt.
That’s going to be a lot for Ichiro to deal with, and it may challenge him, given the amount of pride he’s displayed in his Hall of Fame career. The fact that it is the Yankees could make a difference. Ichiro certainly wouldn’t have been happy batting ninth and playing left field for the Mariners and maybe not any other team. However, he clearly has a lot of respect for the pinstripes, maybe for Joe Girardi, too. It really is a good fit for him, and if he can make the most of it over these next couple of months, he’ll be in much greater demand this winter than he would have been otherwise.
The Rays were busy over the weekend, trading starter Jake Odorizzi to the Twins, designating All-Star outfielder Corey Dickerson for assignment, and then picking up C.J. Cron in a deal with the Angels. The Rays saved about $4 million — Odorizzi’s $6.3 million less Cron’s $2.3 million salary — and picked up a prospect. They’re still on the hook for Dickerson’s $5.95 million salary until they can find a trade partner, which seems likely.
Those are some head-scratching moves if you’re a Rays fan or a member of the Rays. Dickerson hit .282/.325/.490 with 27 home runs, 62 RBI, and 84 runs scored in 629 plate appearances last season, part of which resulted in his first trip to the All-Star Game. Designating him for assignment is strictly a financial move, assuming he can be traded. The Rays are currently operating with a payroll below $70 million. This comes just a week and a half after Rays ownership proposed the public footing most of the bill for the club’s new stadium. And the Rays had traded third baseman Evan Longoria — then the face of the franchise — to the Giants earlier this offseason.
Longoria expressed sympathy for Rays fans for having to put up with this. Via Andrew Baggarly, Longoria said of the curious Dickerson move, “I just kind of feel sorry for the Rays fan base. … I’m not going to take too many shots but it’s pretty obvious that guy is a valuable player and didn’t deserve to be DFAd. Corey was our best player last year.”
Longoria isn’t quite on the money there. By WAR, Dickerson ranked fifth among position players on the team, according to Baseball Reference. FanGraphs is also in agreement. Still, it’s indisputable that Dickerson, who turns 29 years old this May, more than pulled his weight. The Rays do not have a surfeit of starting outfielders, so it wasn’t like they were making room for other capable players. Mallex Smith, who put up a .684 OPS in 282 PA last year, is slated to start in left field at the moment. Designating Dickerson for assignment, as well as trading Longoria and Odorizzi, were simply cost-cutting decisions.
The Rays’ M.O. has been part of the problem leading to the current stagnant free agent market (sans Eric Hosmer‘s eight-year deal on Saturday). Teams like the Rays, Phillies, Reds, and Tigers have been explicitly putting out non-competitive teams in order to facilitate a rebuilding process. Longoria is right to express sympathy for Rays fans, who see their favorite team worsening a roster that went 80-82 last year. The Rays haven’t finished at .500 or above since 2013 and doesn’t figure to halt the streak this year.