Great week by Ichiro has fans saying Brett Who???
Ichiro’s inspired performance over the last week has fans dreaming what he could possibly do with a full season in Yankee Stadium. The popular thought is that Ichiro’s decline the past 2 seasons has been more a matter of motivation, or lack there of in Seattle, than the fact that he’s a soon to be 39-year-old player whose game is built largely on speed. Ichiro has helped jump-start the team’s recent hot streak (10-2 over last 12) and has some thinking that this team’s starting lineup should be brought back intact next season. But what about Brett Gardner who has been the starting LF the last 2 years and the only Yankees starter 28 or under coming into this season?
Some are saying Brett has to prove himself all over again and are bringing up the same 4th Outfielder talk that dogged him his rookie year. Has everyone forgotten how stagnant and one-dimensional the Yankees offense has been much of this year? Or that the average age of the roster is more than 3 yrs older than any team in the A.L.? Or that the Yankees have had ZERO production from the bottom of the order this yr without Gardner?
This season, Yankees #8 hitters have a .293 OBP/.665 OPS & #9 hitters have a .307 OBP/.694 OPS. Without Gardner batting 9th as the second leadoff man, the bottom of the order has been station to station and stagnant. As a result, our best hitter this year – Derek Jeter - has only 57 RBI despite leading MLB in PA (697) and hits (207) and hitting .317 with RISP. Despite having a tremendous season, he is driving in Runs at the worst rate of his career with just 1 RBI per 12 Plate Appearances. It’s not because he isn’t hitting, it’s because he hasn’t had many runners on base and the ones that are on base are not good baserunners. Jeter has only had 331 runners on base in his 697 PAs. The MLB average for a player with 697 PAs should be 414 baserunners. The players Jeter has driven in the most this season (besides himself) are Martin, Stewart & Ichiro - 5 times each. By comparison, he’s driven in Gardner 3 times THIS yr despite Brett only playing 9 games! You think Jeter misses the opportunity to drive Gardner in?
Gardner has a career .355 OBP. This season only Jeter and Cano have better OBP than that (both around .364). Putting someone who gets on base like that in the 9-hole in front of Jeter will give this team the circular lineup they’ve lacked. Brett’s never going to be a HR hitter but he is one of top 5 players in MLB in pitches seen per PA, Stolen Bases, Defensive Runs Saved, UZR AND he is in his prime at 28. For a team trying to get younger,more athletic and lower payroll, Gardner is the only potential starter they have to fit that description. He’s still affordable at $2.8 M with a slight raise next yr. Ichiro will be 39 and made $17 Million this yr. If he wants to come back with the Yanks how much of a pay cut will he accept? Will he accept a 50% pay cut to $8.5M which is 3 times the cost of Gardner?
But this isn’t meant to disparage Ichiro, just to point out Brett is sorely missed. At this point in their careers, Gardner and Ichiro are very similar players with Ichiro getting the edge in hitting for average. Brett’s a .265 career hitter who should improve now in his prime while Ichiro has hit .277 over his last 2 years and will be 39 next yr. Brett gets on base more, steals more, hits for a higher OPS and plays better defense than a 39-yr old Ichiro. But IMO there should NOT even be a question of Brett or Ichiro. Brett is guaranteed a spot on this team next yr. The question will be Swisher or Ichiro?
I really can’t see Swisher staying. He’s talking a Jayson Werth-type about a $100 Million+ contract. When looking for a similar aged player with similar stats, Andre Ethier is a great comparison and he signed a 5 year, $85M deal with an option yr that makes it 6 yrs $100M if healthy. And that was an extension without hitting the open market. That is what Swisher will be looking for and expect some team to go AT LEAST 4 yrs $60M. With the new TV deal MLB just signed, every team in baseball gets double the national TV revenue and many others are copying the Yankees YES model and signing their own massive Regional TV deals. Teams are looking to SPEND with the exception of the Yankees who are looking to cut some $30-40 Million of their payroll. With that in mind and all of the long/lucrative contracts on the books, i don’t see the Yankees adding to that with Swisher. I expect Cashman to pull off a trade for a moderately priced young veteran OR look to bring a veteran in on a 1-year deal. He’ll offer Swish the 1 yr $13 Million qualifier which he’ll decline. It may come down to bringing Ichiro back to play his natural RF spot or possibly someone like Tori Hunter.
But what is your opinion? What should the Yankees OF look like next year given their financial constraints? If Ichiro is brought back, will it be at the expense of Brett, Swish or Granderson? Or can Ichiro be brought back to play the Raul Ibanez role to play vs RHP? Also, has Ichiro’s massive week changed your opinion of him that he is more than the player he’s shown the last 2 years in Seattle?