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MLB.com Columnist

Richard Justice

Ichiro entering perfect situation to succeed

Justice: Ichiro entering perfect situation to succeed

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Ichiro entering perfect situation to succeed

MLB.com Columnist

Richard Justice

Forget that he was once one of the best offensive players in baseball. The Yankees didn't trade for THAT Ichiro Suzuki.

They didn't need that one. Their offense was plenty robust before his arrival -- fourth in the American League in runs, first in home runs and first in OPS when Monday began.

Their corner outfielders have 31 home runs and 99 RBIs. They're hitting just .237, but these Yankees are a grip-it-and-rip-it club.

The Bombers also had the best record in the Major Leagues and the largest division lead when the deal was made Monday.

Nor will they be looking to Ichiro for leadership or professionalism or poise. With Derek Jeter, Curtis Granderson, Mark Teixeira, etc., the Yankees are one of the industry standards for that stuff.

In fact, this trade is notable only because of what Ichiro Suzuki once was. In 11 seasons, he had 2,533 hits, 10 Gold Gloves and 10 All-Star appearances. He was the American League Rookie of the Year and Most Valuable Player in 2001 and has two batting titles.

This Ichiro Suzuki is 38 years old and was hitting .261 -- 62 points below his career average. His batting average against left-handed pitching was .236.

To compare that other Ichiro, the 10-time All-Star, to this one is a mistake. The truth is, the Yankees don't really know what they're getting.

They believe that moving him into a winning environment and putting him back in front of big crowds will revive his career. He's probably not physically capable of doing the things he once did, but he's getting put in a perfect situation to succeed.

If this is the end of the road, it has been an amazing one. He came to the United States with a huge burden of expectations as the first Japanese position player. He was hyped like crazy.

We heard so much about his precise eye, his training methods, his this, his that, that it was going to be tough for him to fulfill all the expectations. He wasn't dominant in that first Spring Training, and because he was a mere 5-foot-11 and because he seemed to be overpowered by Major League fastballs, he was quickly written off by some.

When the regular season started, he began spraying hits all over the field. He made throws from the outfield that rivaled Roberto Clemente for their power and accuracy. The Mariners won an American League-record 116 games during Ichiro's first season. Ichiro hit .350 and made it all look so easy.

The Mariners haven't been back to the playoffs since then, and with them headed toward a third straight last-place finish in the American League West, with Ichiro unsigned and his future uncertain after this season, he asked to be traded.

Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik obliged the request, not just dealing Ichiro, but inserting him into a situation in which he'll be playing for a team that seems to be sprinting toward another October run.

With Brett Gardner gone for the season, there'll be playing time for Ichiro, probably in left field. After the losing and small crowds of recent years, he just might be energized by the opportunity.

Until recently, Yankees general manager Brian Cashman had seemed content to stand pat with the roster that has had his team in first place for 41 consecutive days and seemingly in control of the American League East.

He now adds a very good defensive outfielder, an above-average baserunner and someone who is still a tough out against right-handed pitching. He also has the relentless work ethic that has become part of the culture around the Yankees.

Ichiro admitted being overwhelmed by sadness at leaving the place where he'd spent the first 11 seasons of his Major League career. But he understood that the Mariners were in a different place with their franchise, that it's time for younger players to get a chance.

He also understands the history of the game. He knows why the Yankees are special and why playing for them is unlike any other experience in the game. If this is the end of the line, it's a perfect way to go out.

Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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