You know what remains one of the weirdest things? Ichiro doesn’t play for the Mariners any more. He was traded in July and played against the Marines at Safeco and the world kept on spinning. The Ichiro! of 2012 is not the Ichiro we all know and love – the rare player with four elite tools who uses them in a most peculiar way.

Ichiro was better with the Yankees during his two month cameo (and requisite playoff appearance) posting a .322/.340/.454 line in 240 plate appearances. Late career resurgence or dead cat bounce: either way this ain’t the real Ichiro.

The Yankees and Ichiro reportedly agree to a two-year deal with $13 Mil. Which is not that much money if you’re the Yankees. Nothing is but let’s be serious. Even after posting the worst offensive numbers of his career, Ichiro! still mustered 2.5 fWAR in 2012. That is not bad, not even a little bit. His rWAR figure of 1.5 isn’t as good but still comfortably worth the money New York will pay him.

Is a full season of Ichiro posting league-average offense (though without any power to speak of) worth $6.5 million bucks? Of course it is! The Yankees seem intent on keeping their veteran core as old as possible and, if the stories of Ichiro turning down contracts from other teams are true, suggest Ichiro! is very comfortable in New York.

Ichiro is one of the greatest defensive outfielders to play the game but, at 39, his best range days are behind him. The Yankees largely used him their expanse left field, opting to keep Nick Swisher‘s falldown range in the cosy confines of Yankee Stadium’s right field corner.

With Swisher likely gone and Brett Gardner back in the mix, might the Yankees move Ichiro back to his rightful home in, uh, right field and move Curtis Granderson to left? The Yanks are not thought to be enamoured with Grandy’s play in center.

Yankees beat guy Bryan Hoch touched on the subject earlier this off-season, quoting Joe Girardi damning Granderson with the faintest of praise. “I thought he did a decent job for us” doesn’t exactly scream “he’s starting over the guy whose main function is defense in center next year.”

Granderson-Gardner-Ichiro! is an excellent defensive outfield, though it is one that doesn’t figure to clout home runs the way we expect outfields to clout. The Yankees seem content to stay with Ichiro but it points to a slightly worrisome trend to Yankees fans: they haven’t actually upgraded the team.

But then again: full time Ichiro offers more than the Bombers got from Raul Ibanez/Andruw Jones for the first half of the season and a full season of defensive wunderkind/on base machine Brett Gardner might actually give the Yankees more than they got from their outfield in 2012.

Ibanez and Jones counted 1.5 fWAR in 2012 while Swisher’s strong year was worth 3.9. In his two full-time seasons, Brett Gardner’s superlative defense, base running and rampant walking was worth 11 WAR. ELEVEN! If Ichiro can hit about as well as he did in New York and Brett Gardner can be 80% of previous Brett Gardner, the Yankees are good to go, right? The bar is set even lower if you use Baseball Reference’s flavor of Wins Above Replacement.

Age PA Rbat Rbaser Rdp Rfield Rpos RAA WAA Rrep RAR WAR waaWL% 162WL% oWAR dWAR
Raul Ibanez* 40 425 2 -0 0 -5 -7 -10 -1.1 14 4 0.3 .491 .493 0.9 -1.2
Andruw Jones 35 269 -3 0 1 1 -5 -7 -0.7 9 2 0.2 .492 .496 0.1 -0.4
Nick Swisher# 31 624 18 -1 1 5 -9 14 1.6 21 35 3.5 .510 .509 3.1 -0.4
Provided by View Original Table
Generated 12/14/2012.

Replacing this meagre output with slightly less meagre options seems to be Yanks GM Brian Cashman’s gamble. The roster just gets older and older and the punchlines louder and louder until you remember they won 95 games last year and still have CC Sabathia. Improbably, they remain the team to beat in the AL East. Same as it ever was.