Ichiro Deal Puzzling

Take a look at the two players below, performances 2011-2012:
 
 
 
Do you want either of these two players on your team? No way. Both are terrible offensively, while player Y has advantages in BB% and power and player X has an advantage in contact ability. Defensively, player X is better. Essentially, these two players are practically the same.

Now, what if I told you player X is Ichiro and player Y is Jason Bay? Yikes! The Yankees just signed Ichiro for 2 years and $13M despite him being no better than Bay, who was atrocious with the Mets. Meanwhile, Seattle just signed Bay to a one-year deal worth $500K guaranteed, but up to $3M in performance bonuses.

Yes, I did hide the stolen bases because I didn’t want to give away that player X was Ichiro, so let’s give him an additional advantage in that category. Still, though, this contract is a huge risk for the Yankees.

The organization is obviously banking on Ichiro’s strong finish with the Yankees. Sure, Ichiro raked to a tune of a 133 wRC+ and a .362/.376/.486 slash line in September. And yes, the speed and defense are still there. But back to his performance at the plate: his BABIP skyrocketed after he joined the Yankees. Until he was traded to the Yankees, he posted a BABIP of .279. It showed improvement in August (.325) but was extremely inflated in September (.379). Ichiro does have a high career BABIP (.347) because of his speed, but his September performance is simply unsustainable.

I’m not saying Ichiro won’t bat .300 in 2013, but we’re in an age now that no longer overvalues batting average. Sure, maybe the short porch will help Ichiro pop out more homers, but he’s still no power threat whatsoever, and struggles to get on base. Moreover, the everyday lineup is further imbalanced to the left side.
 
With a $6.5M AAV, the Yankees will probably be regretting this move when trying to fit under $189M next season. Why give a mediocre at best player this kind of money? I don’t get it. If the Phillies were really offering a bigger deal, the Yanks should have let him go.

Yes, Ichiro is still a superb defender in the outfield and a speedster on the bases. But considering his lack of offensive prowess at the age of 39, he really makes more sense as a 4th outfielder. I don’t know any team paying a 4th outfielder 2 years and $13M, and I don’t know anyone who would pay a slightly better version of Jason Bay that amount, either.

What bugs me the most about this deal is the fact that the Yanks let Russell Martin get away for not much more. The Yankees couldn’t shell out the 2 years and $17M Martin received from Pittsburgh instead of giving this bad contract to Ichiro? Bizarre, to say the least.


Photo by Thousandrobots (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0-us or CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Stats via fangraphs.com
Injury data via baseballprospectus.com

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3 Responses to Ichiro Deal Puzzling

  1. Steve Albin says:

    Salary and statistics only have correlation to fans who do NOT have concern about the business aspect of the team. Martin may be a better investment for the purposes of generating offense, but he will never in his wildest dreams pay off financially for the Yankees the way Ichiro will. In the end, this money paid to Ichiro will generate more money in the till for the Yankees and though it may weaken them on the field, it will help them continue to have the finances to overpay for other ballplayers that can help the team more than Ichiro.

    • Derek Albin says:

      That’s an excellent point – Ichiro is just under 400 hits from 3,000, so the Yankees certainly will try to monetize his pursuit. Still, though, there’s no guarantee he gets about 400 hits in two years (hasn’t had 200 in a single season since 2010).

    • Steve Albin says:

      I think just the fact that the Japanese market is tapped in to the Yankees is a big deal, regardless of what Ichiro does. Think of it this way, he’s replacing Matsui!

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