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Ichiro is worth the risk for Yankees

07/24/2012 2:38 AM ET
By Joe Auriemma

The Yankees hope Ichiro can fill the void left by Brett Gardner's season-ending shoulder surgery.(AP)

Ichiro. Not many people on this planet can get away with going by one name. You can, however, when you are an international sensation. He originally gained fame in his native Japan amassing 1,278 hits and a .353 average in nine seasons with the Orix BlueWave. It wasn't until he became the first Japanese position player to play in the Major Leagues in 2001 that his status grew as a global baseball star. That season he became just the second player in Major League history to win league MVP and Rookie of the Year honors.

 

Over his 11-plus year career with the Seattle Mariners, he had accomplished so much. Ichiro became the first player in MLB history to have 10 consecutive 200-hit seasons, while also setting the single-season hit mark with 262 in 2004, right in the teeth of the streak. Also, known for his defense, Ichiro has won 10 Gold Glove awards. When it is all said and done, Ichiro will most likely go into Cooperstown and may even join the 3,000 hit club, while spending a good portion of his storied career in a foreign league.

Ichiro is a living legend on multiple continents, but he has had a rough go at it over the last couple of seasons. At 38 years old, he has endured several straight losing campaigns in Seattle, two-and-a-half to be exact. The Mariners tried to rebuild and make another run at it just a couple of years ago, to no avail. Now in full-on rebuilding mode, the Mariners’ elder statesman asked for a trade to let the team continue on its current upheaval without becoming a burden.

The Yankees were the perfect destination for this superstar to try and make a run at a championship, while trying to rediscover what made him one of the most special players this game has ever seen. He gives the Yankees something they haven't had a lot of this season with the loss of Brett Gardner, someone who creates opportunities on the base paths with speed while generating scoring opportunities and getting on base in a lineup very reliant on scoring via the home run; not that there's anything wrong with that. However, the added dynamic can only serve to make the Yankees more potent and multi-dimensional down the stretch.

He also brings one of the greatest arms and a lot of range to a left field that has really gotten by with terrific bench players and big hitters not known for their defensive prowess at this point in their careers, such as Raul Ibanez and one of the best outfielders of the modern era, Andruw Jones.

This deal truly was a no-brainer for the Yankees. They gave up two prospects they ultimately did not project to be big players in the future of the franchise. D.J. Mitchell may very well be a decent pitcher one day, but at 26, does he really project to be anything other than a back-of-the-rotation starter or reliever? It was worth it to try and catch lightning in a bottle for a player that is going to see if he can rekindle the magic that made him such an international sensation to begin with. If they can get part of that player in return, it could very well mean a 28th championship in the Bronx.

In his very first at-bat in pinstripes, Ichiro looked motivated. He hit one right back up the middle and then immediately stole second. Now that's exactly what the Yankees were looking for him to do. Although he had a quiet night the rest of the way out, one has to figure that playing on a contender will motivate him to play winning baseball. Winning is very contagious. That is something he has not experienced in several years and something that could have very well dragged him down. He may not be the player he once was, but he may also have something left to prove.

“It's very special to put on a Yankees uniform especially being at Safeco, where I played and in front of the great fans, so it was going to be a special day for me today,” Ichiro said through a translator after the Yankees’ 4-1 victory over his former club.

 

It could not have been a better setting for Ichiro. He moved from the home clubhouse right over to the visiting clubhouse and got the ultimate nod of approval with a standing ovation from the fans he sparkled in front of for over a decade. This was the perfect scenario: a send off that had to put his mind at ease knowing that it was now OK to move on and try to do something special for his own legacy in 2012.

“He looked good,” his new manager Joe Girardi said of his debut performance in pinstripes. “He hit the ball right on the screws twice, stole a base, made a good throw to home, kind of what we expected. Almost created a run in the one inning, and that's what we expect.”

One concern about the trade had to be the swirling rumors that Ichiro was a very controlling player that did not take kindly to playing out of position or in certain spots in the lineup. That was all squashed before the game in a pregame meeting with Girardi.

“He was great,” Girardi said of his pregame conversation with Ichiro. “He didn't bat an eye. He said, ‘I'm ready to go.’ He seemed very excited. We're really pleased to have him. This is a guy that we feel can do a lot of things for us and is a very accomplished player.”

I guess moving to a winning environment in an established and veteran lineup will cure all ills. The Yankees just hope that translates into seeing some of the Ichiro of old. Only time will tell if that happens, but it certainly is worth the risk.

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