For the second season in a row, Ichiro‘s depleted skills have been exposed with extended playing time. This isn’t to anyone’s surprise, as Ichiro is well past his prime at 40 years of age. He wasn’t supposed to be a regular this season with the Opening Day roster consisting of four outfielders ahead of him on the depth chart. However, Alfonso Soriano struggled to the point of his release and Carlos Beltran‘s health has been an issue, primarily relegating him to designated hitter in recent weeks.
By the end May, Ichiro had a 112 wRC+ primarily as a spot starter. Since then, coinciding with an increase in playing time, he has a 56 wRC+. Simply put, Ichiro cannot be trotted out as a regular any longer, which really has been the case for some time. Hopefully, Beltran can resume as the everyday right fielder, returning Ichiro to a bench role. Counting on him staying healthy is risky, so it would be wise for the Yankees to look elsewhere for outfield help.
There’s no doubt Brian Cashman is scouring the trade market for an upgrade as tomorrow’s 4PM deadline nears. Perhaps he winds up with someone like Alex Rios, which was discussed here a few weeks ago. If someone isn’t acquired from one of the other 29 clubs, the most plausible candidate already with the club might be Zoilo Almonte.
Almonte, a switch-hitter, has been up and down from Triple-A this year, but his most recent recall might actually keep him up here for good should no trade be made. He’s done very little in 141 plate appearances since he was first promoted in 2013 (43 wRC+), but it’s pretty clear that he has a handle on Triple-A pitching (124 wRC+ in 621 career PAs). It’s worth noting that his splits favor him against right-handed pitching, but that shouldn’t be a great concern, as there are more righties than southpaws in baseball.
ZiPS favors Ichiro the rest of the way offensively (80 vs. 77 wRC+), although Steamer easily prefers Zoilo (95 vs. 84 wRC+). It looks like Zoilo wouldn’t be any worse than Ichiro, and that alone is enough of a reason to give him a chance should Beltran be unable to hold up in right.
This doesn’t mean Ichiro should be designated for assignment — he still has a use as a fourth outfielder. Plus, Zelous Wheeler probably goes before any of the other position players currently on the roster (that probably happens when Kelly Johnson returns). That also allows the Yankees to reinsert Ichiro into regular playing time if Zoilo couldn’t match the low bar already set.
With Beltran not returning to the field until next week at the earliest, the front office can’t play wait and see with Beltran if they want to make a trade for an outfielder. Yes, a waiver deal could be made, but that would be a bit more complex. The team could gamble that Beltran will hold up, prioritizing outside help for other needs. If that’s the case, and Beltran is fine, then great. If not, Zoilo deserves a shot in right field.