Ichiro Suzuki reportedly wants to remain with the New York Yankees. Keeping Ichiro, especially if the decision is simply making a choice between re-signing Ichiro or Nick Swisher -- both of whom can be free agents -- is a move I am strongly in favor of.
Pinstriped Bible editor Steven Goldman recently laid out a case for why a choice between Ichiro and Swisher for the Yankees isn't really the no-brainer that I believe it to be.
Goldman's well-constructed sabermetrically-based argument is that even at his peak the now 38-year-old Ichiro was never truly as productive on offense as the 32-year-old Swisher and that, with the age difference, he won't be in 2013. Goldman does not necessarily argue FOR keeping Swisher. He just doesn't advocate Ichiro as the replacement. Here is some of his argument:
While Ichiro is a better fielder and base-runner than Swisher, he's actually not as good a hitter. In the years that he hit .350 and up, he was roughly as good a hitter as Swisher, not better. In the years when he hit .315 or lower, he plainly wasn't as good. The simple reason for this is that a .250 average with 35 doubles, 25 home runs, and 80 walks is far more conducive to generating runs than a .315 average, 25 doubles, nine home runs, and 40 walks, even with 40 stolen bases thrown in.
I'm not trying to take anything away from Ichiro. He's a likely Hall of Famer, and I would be tickled if he hung around long enough to pick up his 3000th hit in this country to go with the 1,278 he had in Japan. However, we should understand that his central skill, an ability to (at his peak) slap .350-.370 in singles, combined with the durability to play 162 games a year, has a certain amount of value, but as right fielders go it really isn't anything special in terms of offensive production; it looks better than it is.
If you like OPS, Ichiro has a career .784, Swisher .814. If you want that league- and park-adjusted, it's 113 for Ichiro, 118 for Swisher. If you prefer wOBA it's .339 for Ichiro, .359 for Swisher. True Average? .284 for Ichiro, .288 for Swisher.
The only thing I know for sure is this: the best-case scenario for Ichiro in 2013 is likely something roughly like what he did for the Yankees in 2012, which wasn't quite as good as what Swisher did in 2012. I'm not necessarily arguing that the Yankees should re-sign Swisher, because that entails its own risks. But the idea that Ichiro can just slot in there and there will be continuity of production is a dangerous assumption to make.
No doubt Goldman's argument makes sense. From where I sit, though, it misses the essential point of why Swisher should be somewhere else in 2013 -- anywhere else, really -- and Ichiro should be the right fielder.
It's not about the Sabermetrics. It's not even about the age difference. It's about the playoffs. For the Yankees, it has to be about the playoffs, and the type of players you need once you get there.
It's about Swisher going 1-for-36 with runners in scoring position during his four-year postseason career with the Yankees.
It's about Swisher being a led-footed home run hitter who is an average at best outfielder and a player who can't help you on the base paths.
It's about the Yankees needing to get away from being a team that can't win without the benefit of the home run.
It's about Ichiro being many of those things that Swisher is not, things that win playoff games. He isn't what he used to be, but Ichiro is still a tremendous defensive outfielder with an above average throwing arm. He is still a gifted base runner who can steal some bases. He is still a contact hitter who can put the ball in play, get a single and put pressure on opposing defenses.
It is also about the cost. Swisher wants a fairly rich multi-year deal. This being baseball someone will give it to him, ponying up $10 million or more for each of the next three, four, five seasons. The Yankees would be foolish to do so.
Ichiro reportedly wants only a one-year deal, which is what he should be looking for, at a cost of somewhere around $5-8 million.
That makes sense. Ichiro in right field with Brett Gardner in left field changes the Yankees from a slow-footed, defensively-challenged outfield to a more dynamic one. It changes the lineup to a more diverse one that should prove more versatile against the best pitching, and by extension in the playoffs. Plus, it keeps the Yankees away from yet another long-term contract they will end up regretting.
For me, Ichiro in right field for the Yankees in 2013 makes perfect sense.