Wednesday, February 5, 2014

The Yankees locked Ichiro Suzuki up on a two-year contract last winter, leaving them stuck with him for one year too many. Last year was one of his worst in professional baseball, and it would be easy to see this being his last season before retiring -- that's far from a guarantee, though.

After signing Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran this winter, the Yankees have given themselves more than enough outfielders heading into spring training.

They've already released Vernon Wells after designating him for assignment back in January, and it could be possible that Ichiro is the next outfielder the Yankees move.

But for now, however, Ichiro is still on the Yankee's roster, and they're still in line to pay him the $6.5 million they owe him in 2014.

Even this late in his career, at 40-years-old this season, Ichiro can give the Yankees some speed on the bases, some slap hits into the gap here and there, and he'll stay on the field for the full season -- he's never played less than 140 games in a season since coming to the MLB from Japan.

Having been very durable and always in the lineup, Ichiro shouldn't be able to expect that same kind of playing time in 2014.

If you're looking at the depth chart, it won't be hard to see Ichiro at the bottom of the outfield list, coming in behind Beltran, Ellsbury, Brett Gardner and Alfonso Soriano. And because of that, I just don't see him fitting into Joe Girardi's game plan each day.

Like I said above, Ichiro will be able to pinch-run off of the bench, and could even be a late-game option at the plate for Girardi if he's looking to send an experience hitter at the plate -- and Ichiro has more than enough experience with the bat.

I'm not saying that Ichiro won't get in at least 100 games this season, because he can still help the team (not as much as he could five years ago) in a few ways. But it would be more reasonable to expect him at least 120-130 games, not the 150 that he's been averaging in the Major Leagues.

Right now, the Opening Day lineup projects to have Gardner in left, Ellsbury in center, and Beltran in right. Soriano will act as the fourth outfielder and spend most of his time as the DH, cycling though that position with Beltran and Derek Jeter, two players near the end of their careers that will certainly need a break from the field a couple times a week.

It would not surprise me at all if the Yankees were to move him before heading to Houston for Opening Day, possibly trying to trade him for a another bullpen arm. Should he stay with the team through the first few months, though, you can expect a much lesser bench role for Ichiro. He'll likely be the fifth outfielder, if the Yanks even decide to carry that many.


Gavin Ewbank is the Lead Writer of Yanks Beat Blog, and you can follow him on Twitter (below).


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