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AMELIA ISLAND, Fla. – It’s not quite up to the level of the Alex Rodriguez and Manny Ramirez sweepstakes, but the bidding for the negotiating rights to the top hitter in Japan came to a close Wednesday, with the Seattle Mariners the favorites.
And fitting for a competition whose contestants are mostly in Florida this week, it could take days to find out who is the winner in the bid for Japanese All-Star outfielder Ichiro Suzuki.
The commissioner’s office planned to notify the Japanese commissioner of the amount of the winning sealed bid but not the team. The Orix BlueWave, Suzuki’s team in Japan, has until Tuesday to accept the offer.
Then the winning team has 30 days to negotiate a contract with Suzuki and the team pays the fee to Orix only if it signs Suzuki. If Suzuki doesn’t sign, he will remain in Japan for at least one more season.
Suzuki, 27, hit .387 this season to win his seventh straight Pacific League batting title. Suzuki is a career .353 hitter with 118 home runs and 529 RBI in nine seasons in Japan.
“He has ability to be a starting outfielder for most major league teams,” said Mets assistant GM Omar Minaya, whose team made one of the sealed bids for Suzuki. “He has the ability to be a good player, but it is too early to say if he can be a star. It’s not fair to put those labels on him.”
About 15 teams were expected to be involved in the bidding process, with the Mariners being the favorite because of their Japanese ownership and Japanese reliever Kazuhiro Sasaki, who won the AL Rookie of the Year in his first season after leaving Japan.
There is also a large Japanese population in Seattle – an important factor to Suzuki, according to agent Tony Attanasio. Suzuki also has a history with the Mariners, having worked out with them during spring training in 1999 as part of an agreement with Orix.
The bidding was expected to run as high as $10 million just for the right to negotiate with Suzuki. Then it will take even more to sign him as Suzuki made about $5.5 million this season in Japan. The hefty price tag for an untested player has scared off some teams.
“I don’t know how to judge him because there haven’t been any other Japanese hitters that have come here,” said Boston GM Dan Duquette, who didn’t plan to make a bid.
Duquette has irritated more than a few GMs during his tenure in Boston, and apparently walked out of a meeting with the Rockies this week – saying he didn’t need anyone Colorado could offer.
Cleveland also bid for Suzuki, as a possible replacement for free agent Ramirez.
Indians GM John Hart has yet to respond to Ramirez’s $200 million contract proposal, but said an offer would probably come before Friday. After that, Ramirez is free to sign with any team.
“There’s nothing new today,” Hart said. “We’re at the same place we were.”
In other news, Chicago White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf to make a run at Seattl’es Alex Rodriguez, the top free agent on the market.
Rodriguez, 25, will likely command a salary in excess of $20 million a season – nearly two-thirds of the White Sox opening day payroll last season.
“I have no idea how far Jerry wants to go,” Manuel said. “I don’t get involved in those conversations. I just say, ‘Oh, please get him. Please get him.’ “
Atlanta, Los Angeles, Colorado and the Mets are believed to be the front-runners if Rodriguez leaves Seattle, but A-Rod has said he would enjoy playing for Chisox manager Jerry Manuel.
“Obviously that’s a good feeling,” Manuel said. “The challenge would be to make him what potentially you think he could be. Hopefully we have the people who could take him to the level where he is as dominant as everyone thinks that he could possibly be.”
Mets GM Steve Phillips also talked with agent Mark Rodgers for the first time since left-hander Mike Hampton filed for free agency. The Texas Rangers also have met with Rodgers regarding Hampton.
Cincinnati and Oakland may swing a trade today, sending former National League Rookie of the Year Scott Williamson to the A’s in exchange for former American League Rookie of the Year Ben Grieve.
Montreal is shopping pitcher Dustin Hermanson and three AL East teams – Boston, Baltimore and Toronto – are said to be interested.
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