By Bryan Hoch, MLB.com, With Photos From Christian J. Stewart – ISN
SEATTLE — Beloved by Mariner fans on both sides of the border, including many fans here in Victoria, Seattle Mariner all-star and baseball icon Ichiro Suzuki has been traded to the New York Yankees in exchange for a pair of pitchers and cash. Ichiro will play tonight in Seattle against his former team.
The Ichiro Suzuki era came to an abrupt end on an overcast Monday afternoon at Safeco Field, as the star outfielder crossed over to the visiting clubhouse to greet members of the New York Yankees — his new teammates.
The blockbuster trade transpired so quickly, Yankees manager Joe Girardi was barely given enough warning not to put together an official lineup. Ichiro selected a uniform number — No. 31 — and found himself in that Yankees’ lineup, batting eighth and playing right field against his former Mariners club.
Ichiro Suzuki was traded from Seattle Monday to the New York Yankees (Photo by Christian J. Stewart – ISN)
“I’m going from a team having the most losses to a team with the most wins, so it’s been hard to maintain my excitement in that regard,” Ichiro said through an interpreter.
The Yankees sent right-handed pitchers D.J. Mitchell and Danny Farquhar to Seattle in exchange for Ichiro. The deal also includes cash considerations. To create room on the 25-man roster for Ichiro, the Yankees designated outfielder Dewayne Wise for assignment.
“This was something that was a surprise,” Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said. “It’s an opportunity. I’m looking forward to seeing how it plays out for us, because I do think he can really help us. I look forward to seeing if that’s the case or not.”
Seattle fans will miss Ichiro’s trademark batting style (Photo by Christian J. Stewart – ISN)
As he revealed on Monday, Ichiro had approached the Mariners in recent weeks and asked them to seek a trade, believing that he no longer belongs on a younger, rebuilding Seattle club.
The Yankees eagerly welcomed the Japanese superstar with 2,533 career Major League hits, hoping he represents one of the final pieces that will help them secure a 28th World Series championship.
“I’ve enjoyed playing against him for 11 1/2 years; he’s someone I’ve always admired from afar,” Yankees captain Derek Jeter said. “I’ve had the opportunity to play with a lot of great players throughout the years. I’m looking forward to playing with him.”
Girardi said that Ichiro can replace what the club felt it was missing without Brett Gardner, who is lost for the season with a right elbow injury. Girardi expects to play Ichiro in left and right field for the rest of the season.
“We’re getting a very accomplished player,” Girardi said. “Sometimes you need to create a run, and his defense is going to be outstanding — 10 Gold Gloves — and we’re excited about that as well.”
Ichiro is playing right field for now, as the Yankees expect to get Nick Swisher back from a left hip flexor strain when they return to the Bronx on Friday. Ichiro said that he does not have much experience in left field, but the thought does bring fond memories.
“I haven’t played left for a long time, to be honest with you, but the last time I played left was a playoff game — my first playoff game in Yankee Stadium [in 2001], so it’s a very memorable position for me for that reason,” he said.
Suzuki is trading the bright lights of Safeco Field for those of the Big Apple (Photo by Christian J. Stewart – ISN)
Cashman said that the initial trade winds formed in conversations between Mariners president Chuck Armstrong and Yankees president Randy Levine. Cashman and his Mariners counterpart, Jack Zduriencik, hammered out the final agreement on Monday.
“This was a conversation that stood above the general managers,” Cashman said. “Randy asked me, ‘Would you have an interest in Ichiro? There might be something that could make sense.’ From there we went.”
As he was welcomed into the clubhouse, Ichiro shook hands and exchanged pleasantries with CC Sabathia and Phil Hughes before hugging Freddy Garcia, a former Seattle teammate. Alex Rodriguez called Ichiro a “great guy.”
Rafael Soriano, who also played with Ichiro in Seattle, jokingly admonished the outfielder, “Don’t be late for stretch. 5:30.” He heeded Soriano’s warning; Ichiro was on time, jogging out of the third-base dugout to shrieks and cheers from his old home crowd.
Ichiro spent some of his time on Monday discussing uniform numbers with Rob Cucuzza, the club’s equipment manager. Ichiro’s No. 51 may be iconic, but when embroidered on a pinstriped jersey, it evokes Bernie Williams — and no Yankee has worn it since. Ichiro yielded, selecting No. 31 instead.
“Of course No. 51 is a special number to me, but when I think about what 51 means to the Yankees, it’s hard for me to ask for that number,” Ichiro said. “I’d like to have a new number and then make that my own.”
A 10-time All-Star and 10-time Gold Glove winner, Ichiro has experienced a dropoff this season with Seattle, batting .261 with four home runs, 28 RBIs and 15 stolen bases. He believes that a new beginning in New York will rejuvenate his performance.
“Of course, that is my intention,” Ichiro said. “Especially looking at how the Yankees are doing right now, I just want to do whatever I can to be helpful to the Yankees.”