Entering the season with five outfielders -- two of them newly signed to nice-sized contract, and another locked into a four-year extension -- there seemed to be no room for the the 40-year-old Ichiro in an outfield that includes Jacoby Ellsbury, Brett Gardner, Carlos Beltran and Alfonso Soriano.
The question around Ichiro throughout spring training about about how much playing time the future Hall of Famer would get. Not much, really. But in that roll, Ichiro has thrived in the early going.
Ichiro enters play tonight against the Los Angels Angels with a team-high -- though not qualifying to lead -- .375 batting average (18-for-48) in 24 games.
Ichiro's nice play through the first month is good for him to make a case in the event that one of the other four outfielders gets hurt, or play bad enough to force Joe Girardi to bench them.
At the same time, the Yankees have a decent trade chip in Ichiro come July, if the starting rotation is still in terrible shape. Ichiro came into the season being owed $6.5 million, and most of that will be paid off by then, and the Yankees would be able to eat some of it if needed.
It was that salary, combined with sluggish play last season, one of his worst years in the big leagues, that kept the Yankees from being able to unload him.
But for now, he's giving the Yankees a nice boost of pop and speed off the bench in the later-innings of game. I was all for trading Ichiro before the season, but you can never have too much depth, right? And Ichiro is giving them that.