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Yankees to seek right-handed hitting

12/17/2012 11:53 AM ET
By Jon Lane

Ichiro accepted less money to stay in the Bronx compared to other reported offers.(AP)
Ichiro Suzuki’s return to the New York Yankees is all but official. On Friday a CBSSports.com report indicated a two-year commitment worth about $13 million.

Ichiro may be 39, but as last season proved he’s not that far removed from his best years. You can indicate that his .322 batting average in 67 games for New York were buffed by a torrid stretch of five games during which he hit .700 (14-for-20) with two home runs, five RBIs and five stolen bases, but that and a productive postseason were enough sample sizes to prove Ichiro has game left. As it stands right now, Ichiro will play every day in right field, but the Yankees are on the hunt for a right-handed bat to spell Ichiro, Brett Gardner and Curtis Granderson. All three members of the Yanks’ starting outfield are left-handed.

Over the weekend, the Yankees were linked to two names, Vernon Wells and Michael Bourn. Wells makes sense only because he’s right-handed and that the L.A. Angels – looking to deal from an outfield surplus after signing Josh Hamilton – would be expected to pay most of the $42 million owed to Wells over the last two years of his contract.

Wells’ signature season was eight years ago (.317-33-117). Last season he batted .230 with 11 home runs in 243 at-bats during a campaign hindered by a thumb injury, and in the prior two seasons combined to hit .273 with 56 homers.  Nothing is imminent between the two sides and any deal is far from a guarantee, but if Wells does become a Yankee, time will tell whether he, like Ichiro, will be rejuvenated or if Wells is nothing more than a part-time right-handed hitter who makes the occasional contribution.

Bourn is a good player whose price could drop, but he’s similar to Gardner in terms of career numbers (.272/.339/.365 to Gardner’s .266/.355/.368) and the fact that he’s a lefty slap hitter with speed. No sense in importing a slightly older player of the same ilk. If the Yankees stay on the free-agent road, a good option is Scott Hairston, who for the Mets hit .236 with 20 homers in 377 at-bats -- .286 with 11 homers against left-handers – in 2012 despite a .299 OBP.

Follow Jon Lane on Twitter: @JonLaneNYC

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