Ichiro turned around his 2012 season when he was traded to the Yankees. He played 95 games on Seattle and his numbers were not impressive (.261 BA/.288 OBP/.353 SLG and only had 28 RBIs). Compare that to his 67 games on the Yankees (.322 BA/.340 OBP/.454 SLG with 27 RBIs) and you have a different story. He was a rejuvenated player on a winning team and his performance on the field showed it.
So, why did it take so long for the Yankees to sign him? Well, I guess December 14th isn’t so long, but it has seemed to have taken longer than it should have. Perhaps part of the reason was the Yankees entire offseason approach. They wanted to lower their payroll (as seen by not attempting to resign Martin) and then zero in on pitching (as seen by resigning Pettitte and Kuroda). After that, they wanted to lay low and wait for players to come with them. So, Ichiro waited.
However, the waiting seems to be over. Jon Heyman, of CBSSports.com, reported that Ichiro agreed to a 2 year, $13 million deal. Apparently, he took less money to come back to the Yankees, which is great news. Ichiro clearly enjoyed playing in New York and this deal indicates just that. It is rumored that a team, possibly the Phillies, offered $1 or $2 million more than the Yankees offer, but was turned down in favor of New York’s deal.
By the end of this contract, Ichiro will be 41. How much does he have left? His offensive numbers have not dropped off too much recently. He did bat .272 with a .310 on-base percentage in 2011 and had a slow start in 2012, but turned it around on the Yankees last season and put up Ichiro quality numbers at the plate. However, his defense is something to take a look at. It has been declining at an alarming rate between 2007 and 2011. According to the stat FRAA (Fielding Runs Above Average) on Baseball Prospectus’ website, Ichiro’s numbers over those years are as followed from ’07-’11: 8.9, 4.5, 0.6, -0.8, -18. In short, what this stat indicates is a player’s ability to make plays compared to how many plays an average player would make. So, this decline cannot be taken lightly. In 2012, he posted a 5.6 FRAA with Seattle and a -1.8 FRAA on the Yankees, which is an improvement over his dreadful 2011 season. It is important to note, though, that right field in Yankee Stadium is not very large, so Ichiro will probably be able to improve on his -1.8 FRAA in 2012 as he becomes more familiar with the ballpark.
In the end, this signing was a no-brainer for the Yankees. Yes, he is 39, but on a team that is seemingly hell-bent on hitting home-runs, you need a guy who knows how to situationally hit. Also, he stole 14 bases for the Yankees last season. Project that over a full season and you get 35 stolen bases. Combine that with Gardner and the Yankees have two guys who can wreak havoc on the base-paths.