The New York Yankees currently have the best record in baseball at 58-38, but with Brett Gardner out for the rest of the season, the team had one glaring weakness that needed to be improved before the trade deadline. On Monday, the Yankees did just that by acquiring Ichiro Suzuki from the Seattle Mariners.
Gardner, who only played in nine games this season, was the team's best base stealer and a Gold Glove candidate in left field. Since his injury, the team has turned to aging veterans such as Raul Ibanez and Andruw Jones to replace the speedy outfielder, relying on home runs rather than stolen bases, sacrifice hits, and great defense.
Ibanez and Jones, as well as Dewayne Wise contributing as a defensive-replacement late in games, have done a good job as a replacement for Gardner, combining to hit 16 home runs with 40 RBI when playing left field this season. However, the team was full of power-hitters and lacked a contact hitter that could reach base and make something happen, which was Gardner's skill.
With the addition of Ichiro, the Yankees have suddenly restored some of that balance. The Yankees are 24th in the league with 50 stolen bases this season, but are first in the league with 150 home runs. Ichiro has 15 stolen bases this year, which is now the team-high for New York.
Home runs can carry a team through the regular season, but the Yankees will need to create runs by playing "small ball" once the postseason starts. Stealing bases, beating out infield singles, and advancing runners on sacrifice outs are all areas the Yankees have struggled in this year. Though Ichiro is 38 years old, his speed still allows him to make things happen on the bases.
Ichiro is known as a contact-hitter and only has four home runs this season, but he played in a big, pitcher-friendly ballpark when with the Mariners. He will now bat from the left side of the plate with the short porch in right field at Yankee Stadium, so his home run total could benefit from the move to the Bronx.
Ichiro has also won 10 Gold Glove awards in his 11 year career, making him an upgrade over Jones or Ibanez in the outfield. On days that Ichiro does not play, he can still enter close games as a defensive-replacement in late inning situations.
The Yankees have added another proven veteran to their roster, giving the team plenty of options in the outfield. By adding Ichiro to the equation, the Yankees can now rest Jones and Ibanez more often through the second half of the season to ensure they are well rested for the postseason.
To acquire Ichiro, the Yankees traded two minor league pitchers, DJ Mitchell and Danny Farquhar, but were able to hold on to their top prospects such as Manny Banuelos and Dellin Betances. Yankees general manager Brian Cashman did a great job of improving the current team without sacrificing the future.
New York is now equipped with an explosive lineup, a deep bench full of proven veterans, and a pitching staff with the third-lowest ERA in the American League. With many of the Yankees stars getting older, and the front office planning on lowering the team's payroll under the luxury tax threshold of $189 million by 2014, it may be now or never for this Yankees team to win the World Series.
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