Going to Yankees could help Ichiro's stats


It's certainly possible that one-time hit machine Ichiro Suzuki, dealt from the Seattle Mariners to the New York Yankees on Monday for a couple of minor league pitchers, can muster a few decent months and really help fantasy owners down the stretch. After all, while Suzuki isn't hitting for power or average or getting on base at a remotely passable clip, he can steal bases and leaving spacious Safeco Field has to help him some.

The move makes sense for the Yankees, as Ichiro likely will play left field in place of Raul Ibanez/Andruw Jones and hit at the bottom of the batting order. Essentially, the Yankees are viewing him as the replacement for injured left fielder Brett Gardner, out for the season with an elbow injury. The way Ichiro has played this season the comparison really doesn't fit, but perhaps being in a pennant race will rejuvenate the 38-year-old player.

One reason for offensive optimism, other than the impossible-to-quantify motivation, is that Ichiro is hitting a poor .214 at Safeco Field this season, with a brutal .255 on-base percentage and .289 slugging percentage. After this week he won't be returning to that lovely ballpark anytime soon. Those numbers are, obviously, just awful. In road games, Ichiro is hitting .297 with twice as many stolen bases and 15 of his 24 extra-base hits, and while any career numbers at Yankee Stadium are irrelevant, since Ichiro is simply not the same player he was even two seasons ago, the switch could be notable.

Then again, Ichiro is hitting .190 on pitches out of the strike zone this season, and last year that number was .197. As recently as 2009, he led all big leaguers by hitting .323 on those pitches. He's not the same player he used to be at the plate, but the Yankees and their pitchers should get a boost by his defense, as Ichiro ranks second among AL right fielders in defensive runs saved.

Just be aware for daily leagues that Ichiro has produced a lowly .510 OPS against left-handed pitching (as opposed to .729 OPS against RHP), so Jones might remain in a left-field platoon. Those owning Ibanez in deeper formats also shouldn't fret any more than they already were; he'll continue to see playing time at designated hitter. Jones and Ibanez have both hit 12 home runs, and there's little reason to expect their current production, such as it is other than the occasional long ball, will cease.

Ichiro is owned in 96.5 percent of ESPN standard leagues, which seems like a bit too much, but his stolen bases, and pace for a usable 82 runs scored, make that number feasible. Plus, outfield depth isn't what it used to be in fantasy baseball; by stealing two bases Sunday, Suzuki was actually able to crack the top 50 outfielders on the ESPN Player Rater, though just barely. That makes him a starting outfielder in 10-team standard leagues.

The last-place Mariners not only saved some money but can justify the move by playing a young outfielder in Suzuki's place, but it's hard to see anyone interesting on a fantasy level emerging who wasn't already doing so. Casper Wells and Michael Saunders have been regulars of late, and each has some fantasy upside. Franklin Gutierrez has been on the DL with concussion woes, and while he has done alarmingly little since 2010, that season he did hit 12 home runs and steal 25 bases. Carlos Peguero doesn't seem interesting, but he's in line for more playing time. Perhaps Mike Carp works his way back into the lineup, or minor leaguers Alex Liddi and Trayvon Robinson are summoned. And hey, there's always Chone Figgins. Ugh.