Ichiro Suzuki‘s 12-year run of excellence with the Seattle Mariners ended abruptly today with a trade to the New York Yankees. Suzuki contacted the Mariners several weeks ago through agent Tony Attansio to explore trade possibilities as the team rebuilds and the 38-year-old Suzuki nears the end of his career. “Going from a team with the most losses to the team with the most wins, it’s hard to contain my excitement,” Suzuki said through an interpreter at a press conference at Safeco Field.
Tonight he will face his old team but will not ask to wear his familiar uniform number 51, last worn with the Yankees by Bernie Williams. He said he will ask for a new number.
Seattle receives right-handed pitching prospects D.J. Mitchell and Danny Farquhar for a player in the final year of his contract. The Mariners also will send cash to the Yankees to help pay the remainder of Suzuki’s $17 million salary this season. The Yankees have been looking for more speed in the lineup, preferably in the outfield, since learning left fielder Brett Gardner is not likely to return this season from a elbow injury. Also, right fielder Nick Swisher could miss a few games this week because of a hip flexor strain.
“This is a big day for us,” said Yankees manager Joe Girardi, who plans to use Suzuki in left field most of the time and leave Swisher in right. “We feel he brings the speed element, a tremendous hitter.”
Girardi said his current left field combination of Raul Ibanez and Andruw Jones would shift to designated hitter. With Swisher still out, Suzuki will play right field tonight.
Suzuki, who had to approve the trade because he has been in the major leagues at least 10 years and five with his current team, has become a Seattle icon since coming to the USA from Japan in 2001. He was AL MVP and Rookie of the Year that season, his first of 10 as an All-Star. He also broke the single-season hits record with 262 in 2004, when he hit .372 and won the second of his two batting titles. Suzuki has a .322 career batting average in the USA but is at a career-low .261 this season. He had 2,533 hits for the Mariners after 1,278 in Japan.
By joining Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez, he makes the Yankees the first team since the 1928 Philadelphia Athletics with three players with more than 2,500 career hits. Suzuki led off for most of his career with the Mariners but moved down in the order this year. He’s unlikely to supplant Derek Jeter as the Yankees leadoff hitter. Suzuki is batting eighth tonight.
“He deserves a chance to play for a contending team before the end of his career,” said Mariners CEO Howard Lincoln, who said he did not try to dissuade Suzuki from the trade request. “He will go down in history as one of the greatest players to wear a Seattle Mariners uniform.”