The Yankees acquired outfielder Ichiro Suzuki from the Mariners in exchange for minor-league right-handed pitchers D.J. Mitchell and Danny Fahrquhar. Seattle also sent an undisclosed amount of cash to the Yankees.
Ironically, the Yankees and Mariners opened a three-game series at Safeco Field on Monday, with Ichiro changing uniforms and dugouts before the game. However, he will not wear No. 51 for the Yankees, which was last worn by Bernie Williams.
Ichiro is batting .261 this season with four home runs and 15 stolen bases in 402 at-bats. At 38, he is experiencing his second disappointing season, including a .288 on-base percentage entering Monday night's game.
Mariners manager Eric Wedge moved him from the leadoff spot to the No. 3 hole in spring training, but Ichiro returned to the leadoff spot with Dustin Ackley struggling atop the order and Ichiro not hitting well with men in scoring position. Ichiro was then moved to the No. 2 spot in the order earlier this month.
As the Mariners continued to fall further out of the playoff picture in the American League, Ichiro and agent Tony Attanasio approached CEO Howard Lincoln and asked that he consider trading the 10-time American League All-Star.
"On behalf of our ownership group and everyone in the Seattle Mariners organization, I thank Ichiro for the great career he's had here in Seattle," Lincoln said. "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."
It was clearly a difficult move for the local icon to make.
"When I imagined taking off a Mariners uniform, I was overcome with sadness," said Ichiro.
However, he also admitted to being excited to join a contending team.
"I'm going from a team having the most losses to the team with the most wins. It's hard to maintain my excitement in that regard," he said.
So what do the Yankees want with a 38-year-old singles hitter? He likely won't bat at the top of the order - Derek Jeter's spot - but with Brett Gardner (right elbow) expected to miss the rest of the season, Ichiro provides speed and outfield depth. Nick Swisher is also expected to be out of the lineup until at least Friday with a mild strained left hip flexor.
The Yankees have been mostly using Raul Ibanez, a former teammate of Ichiro's in Seattle, and Andruw Jones in left field. Manager Joe Girardi said the plan is to play Ichiro in left field, although he played only right field and centerfield in 12 seasons in Seattle.
"He's done some great things in the league," said Jeter, who admitted he doesn't know Ichiro very well personally. "Offense, defense, there's a lot of different ways he can beat you. He's been as consistent as anyone."
Suzuki, 38, has played with Seattle ever since he joined the Major Leagues from Japan in 2001. He set the major league record with 10 consecutive 200-hit seasons, beginning with his American League Most Valuable Player and Rookie of the Year season in 2001. That was his first MLB season following nine professional seasons in Japan. He has won the AL batting titles twice.
However, he started to show signs of decline in 2011 when he posted career lows with a .272 batting average and .310 on-base percentage. He spent the offseason tinkering with his swing for the expected move to the No. 3 hole, but the decline in his batting average continued with fewer infield hits and very little protection in the order.
Meanwhile, the Mariners are undergoing a youth movement throughout the roster, and the widely popular Ichiro was entering an awkward phase in Seattle. His contract expires at the end of the season, and the Mariners have a group of outfielders they need to spread playing time to.
"Sometimes, change of scenery helps," Jeter said.