(ELAINE THOMPSON / The Associated Press)
SEATTLE — Ichiro Suzuki is headed to a new team and, after all these years, maybe a shot at playing in the World Series.
The New York Yankees acquired the star outfielder from the Seattle Mariners in a trade Monday for two young pitchers.
“I am going from a team with the most losses to a team with the most wins,” he said. “It’s hard to contain my excitement for that reason.”
The Yankees also got cash in the deal that sent 25-year-old righties D.J. Mitchell and Danny Farquhar to the last-place Mariners. The trade was announced a few hours before the Yankees played at Seattle.
Moving from one clubhouse to another, Ichiro was set to start in right field in place of the injured Nick Swisher and bat eighth for New York on Monday night. It will be the first time Ichiro started a game batting anywhere other than the top three spots in the lineup.
The Yankees made the trade a few days after learning that the speedy Brett Gardner would likely miss the rest of the season because of an elbow problem, and manager Joe Girardi said Ichiro will mostly play left field.
“We’re very excited with the caliber of player we are getting. We feel that he brings the speed element. He’s a tremendous hitter. That speed element is what we lost when Gardy had surgery,” Girardi said. “So this is a big day for us.”
Ichiro was given No. 31 because the number he wore his entire career with the Mariners, No. 51, has not been worn since four-time World Series champion Bernie Williams last played.
“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.”
Mitchell made his major league debut this season and pitched four games for the Yankees. Farquhar made his big league debut last year with Toronto and was claimed last month on waivers by the Yankees from Oakland.
The 38-year-old Ichiro had spent his whole big league career with Seattle. The 10-time All-Star and 10-time Gold Glove winner is batting .261 with four home runs, 28 RBI and 15 stolen bases this year.
Ichiro is a career .322 hitter, a former AL MVP and holds the record for most hits in a season. He had batted over .300 in every season until dipping last year.
The only thing missing on Ichiro’s resume is an appearance in the World Series, and he may get a chance with the Yankees. Ichiro was the AL MVP and rookie of the year in 2001 after a stellar career in Japan, and the Mariners reached the AL championship series that season before losing to the Yankees. Seattle has not been back to the playoffs since then.
He said he hasn’t played in left field since those 2001 playoffs.
The Yankees certainly hope this trade with the Mariners works out better than the last big deal between the teams. New York sent prized young catcher Jesus Montero to Seattle before the season for All-Star pitcher Michael Pineda, who was later injured and is out for the year.
The Mariners had been in a delicate situation with Ichiro. A long time star and fan favorite, Ichiro’s skills have been eroding. He’s in the final year of a five-year contract, paying $18 million this season. There has been much debate in the Seattle media whether he would be back next year with Seattle, a team that is rebuilding with young talent.
Ichiro put an end to the speculation when he approached management around the All-Star break and asked to be traded.
“Several weeks ago, Ichiro Suzuki, through his long time agent, Tony Attanasio, approached (team president) Chuck Armstrong and me to ask that the Mariners consider trading him,” said Howard Lincoln, the team’s CEO. “Ichiro knows that the club is building for the future, and he felt that what was best for the team was to be traded to another club and give our younger players an opportunity to develop.”
Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter has long admired Ichiro, saying, “he’s been consistent throughout his career.”
“They’re been a lot of guys that have come here over the years, starting my first year with Cecil Fielder,” he added. “It’s been unexpected, sort of out of the blue. That’s why you don’t ever listen to rumors. Getting someone like this is unbelievable.”
Said Ichiro about playing with Jeter: “I noticed that he’s not only a guy who has performed for a long time but consistently performed for a long time. And for a team that has the highest expectations of demand to win. To do what he has done there makes me see that he’s exceptional, not just potential wise as a talent but also as a human being.”
Ichiro, usually stoic on and off the field, became emotional at times during the news conference, especially when talking about his admiration for the Mariners fans.
“When I think about this long period, it is difficult to express precisely my feeling,” Ichiro said of his time in Seattle. “When I imagined taking off a Seattle Mariners uniform, I was overcome with sadness. That made it a very difficult decision to make.”