(Seattle Times staff photo by Mark Harrison)
I had just gotten off the phone in the press box yesterday at about 3 p.m. when one of the New York writers, sitting in the row behind me, called down, “Hey, Stoney. Ichiro has been traded to the Yankees for D.J. Mitchell and Danny Farquhar.
I laughed at the joke. Nice touch making up a couple of names. I went back about my business.
“No, really. Ichiro has been traded.”
The tweet from Jack Curry of YES Network — the Yankees’ television network — with word of the trade had come across moments earlier. A few phone calls confirmed the news, setting into motion one of the most hectic (but exhilirating) days of my career. Here’s the news story I wrote, which ran on the front page of the Seattle Times, and here’s my column that ran in sports. Here’s Jerry Brewer’s excellent take. From the New York perspective, here’s an excellent piece by Joel Sherman of the New York Post.
It’s pretty amazing that a trade of this magnitude — especially one involving the Yankees — never leaked out. I’d rate this as the No. 2 most jaw-dropping moment I’ve had covering the Mariners, No. 1 being the mid-season resignation of Mike Hargrove in July of 2007 (which occurred barely a week before Ichiro signed his five-year, $90-million contract extension during the All-Star Game in San Francisco. But that’s another story).
Because last night was so frantic in just trying to get my work for the newspaper done, I didn’t have time to do much blogging. So here are some thoughts on the trade:
1) As I wrote in the coumn, this is a win-win situation. Ichiro gets one last chance for the postseason, and a possible World Series appearance, and the Mariners get to move on with their rebuilding without the looming presence of 38-year-old Ichiro. One thing I got out of yesterday in talking to Howard Lincoln and Chuck Armstrong is the unmistakable impression that had Ichiro not asked for this trade, he would have been back next year. And that had the potential to get incredibly messy for all parties involved. I give full credit to Ichiro for realizing that he, and the Mariners, needed to move on, and for facilitating the move that will benefit both parties.
2) Edgar Martinez’s stint as a Mariner, and only a Mariner, just looks more impressive. Randy Johnson was traded after an ugly contract dispute. Ken Griffey Jr. asked to be traded to Cincinnati. Alex Rodriguez left for Texas as a free agent, and has been roundly booed in Seattle ever since (including last night). And now Ichiro requests a trade (but at least leaves on a positive note that included laudatory praise headed in both directions at a unique press conference that featured Ichiro on the podium with Mariners executives, followed by Yankee manager Joe Girardi on the same podium, next to Ichiro, in front of a Mariners backdrop.
3) It’s amazing how little attention is being paid to the two players received by the Mariners, Farquhar and Mitchell. Brewer called them “two warm bodies” and that’s the harsh reality. At this stage of Ichiro’s career, with a .285 on-base percentage and declining skills, they weren’t going to get much more than fringe prospects and a little bit of salary relief ($2.5 million). Keith Law of ESPN called them “two non-prospects, with Mitchell possibly profiling as a last man on a pitching staff.”
4) The benefit for the Mariners comes in the fact that not only don’t they have to tie up more payroll in Ichiro next year, but with his $17 million coming off the books, they can go out into the market and get perhaps two star-caliber players with that money. That’s theoretical, of course. The Mariners could also choose to pocket that money, and cut payroll even more. But I’d expect them to use it to fill some holes, whether it be by signing a free agent or trading for an established player. Too early to speculate about names, but I’ll throw out just one potential free agent who intrigues me: Michael Bourn of the Braves.
Also, as an aside, no one knows exactly how much the Mariners would have paid Ichiro next year, whether it would have been Jay Buhner “vomit money” — three years for between $35 and $40 million — or something less; but it’s fair to speculate he wouldn’t have been asked to take too substantial of a pay cut.
5) Chuck Armstrong mentioned that the Mariners talked trade only with a handful of teams that were approved by Ichiro, who has full trade veto rights. This is pure speculation, mind you, but I’d bet that list included the Dodgers and Giants, and not much else.
6) This trade is going to affect a lot of people beyond Ichiro. That includes the small group of Japanese reporters who have been assigned to cover Ichiro, including a couple who have been in Seattle for pushing 12 years now and have settled into the community with their families. I talked to one, who will be living out of a hotel in New York for the rest of the season as he moves venues right along with Ichiro. What happens after that, he doesn’t know yet. I’ll be interested to see what happens to Ichiro’s interpreter, Antony Suzuki, who lives in Seattle with his wife and recently had a baby. Yesterday, two of Ichiro’s former Mariner interpreters sprung into action — Ken Barron, who translated during the press conference, and Alan Turner, who did so in the Yankee clubhouse after the game. Also profoundly affected is infielder Munenori Kawasaki, who has never made a secret of his Ichiro worship, and came to Seattle primarily so he could play with his idol. I didn’t have a chance to talk to Kawasaki yesterday, but John Jaso said after the game, “He didn’t know what to do with himself when the game started. Muni’s a little sad today, but tomorrow will be better. He’ll just have to sleep it off.”
7) Here’s some of what Eric Wedge had to say about the trade:
“Obviously, it will be considerably different, but it gives us an opportunity to play another young player on a consistent basis. Obviously, we’ve been giving a lot of young players a lot of opportunities and consistent exposure at this level, and we want to continue to do that. Everyone is on their own path with regard to their development, but collectively we’re on that path as well. This last roadtrip was a great example of that. You look at how we won, three of four in KC was offense oriented, and two of three in Tampa was more pitching getting it done. I’ve said all along, it’s about winning ballgames, not just one way, but multiple fashion. That’s what you have to do up here to be a contender.
“Ultimately, it’s about the respect we all have in the organization for Ichiro, and giving him an opportunity to go a different direction in his career. Ichiro has been a great player here for so many years. He’s a Hall of Fame player, as far as I’m concerned. This just gives him an opportunity to do something else in regard to his career.
On whether he was surprised by Ichiro’s trade request: “Yeah, I think we all were to a certain extent, but I’ve been around long enough to know anything is possible, and expect the unexpected. Ichiro is a guy that lives, eats and breaths the game. He’s always thinking the game. When you hear he’s potentially requested a trade, it’s not something he’s just done on a whim. There’s been a lot of thought process behind that. ”
On which young player will now gain time: “I think everybody. I don’t think it’s one particular player. At some point in time get Guti will be back, and we plan on getting Carp back too. Then we’ll have a couple more guys getting in the mix.
On what Ichiro still has left: “I’ve said it ever since I’ve been here. He’s as dedicated and as hard a worker and has as consistent a routine as I’ve ever seen. He does give himself a chance to be the best he can be each and every day. Obviously, the last couple of years have been tough, but physically, he’s still in great shape. You talk about the way he prepares, anything is possible. He’s going to be in a different setting, a different environment. Time will tell.
“Everyone’s first reaction is the same, surprise. It’s about our team continuing to develop and move in the right direction.
On never managing the elite version of Ichiro: “I know it’s been tough on him. I got to manage across the field when he was doing all that to the opposing team. I know it’s been tough on him. He takes everything to heart. This game means so much to him. He just keeps battling. That’s what he does. He doesn’t give in to it.
“Ultimately, when you look at all our young players and the way Ichiro prepares and works, that was a great example for all our young players.
On whether Casper Wells will now be the primary right fielder: I have (Carlos) Peguero in there right now. He’s played more there. Casper can play all over. He can play right field. (Michael) Saunders, too, for that matter. But Peguero in there tonight because Casper has played a lot more left.”
8) My three favorite Ichiro moments: 1) His walk-off homer off Mariano Rivera in 2009; 2) His 258th hit at Safeco Field to break George Sisler’s all-time single-season record, with the Sisler family watching from the stands; 3) His inside-the-park home run in the 2007 All-Star Game in San Francisco.
Honorable mention: His teammates carrying Ichiro and Griffey off the field after the season-ending win in 2009 (pictured above). If only Griffey had retired after that, how much different would his legacy have been? And, of course, The Throw, in which Ichiro nailed Oakland’s Terrence Long going first to third “with something out of Star Wars” in the immortal words of Dave Niehaus. That one rocket created a reputation for arm strength that lived on (though it wasn’t always matched by accurate throws).
This video is a little shaky, but it catches the craziness of Ichiro’s homer off Rivera, and the pure jubilation among his teammates.
9) And now for a musical interlude: Ben Gibbard of “Death Cab For Cutie” checks in with “Ichiro’s Theme.”
10) I fully expect Ichiro to be invigorated by this trade and perform at the level the Mariners were hoping to get from him. Then again, I thought the move to No. 3 in the order would invigorate Ichiro. I thought that last year’s down year would invigorate him, and motivate him to a big season in 2012. There’s the distinct possibility that he is what he is at age 38, and the Yankees will be just as frustrated with him as the Mariners have been.
I hope not. I’d like to see one last hurrah. One thing for sure is that Ichiro will get a chance to perform in his first postseason since 2001. That wasn’t going to happen here.