PEORIA, Ariz. – Ichiro Suzuki took several hesitant swings during his first spring training workout Tuesday, then delivered a shot heard ‘round the Seattle Mariners.
The Mariners’ star outfielder said it’s possible he’ll play out the final year of his contract and become a free agent after this season.
“I have played 15 years of professional baseball, including Japan and America, and I have never filed for free agency,” Suzuki said through an interpreter during a 25-minute session with reporters that focused mostly on his contract situation. “I have never had the (option) to choose for myself which road I want to take.”
As enticing as that possibility may seem, Suzuki said it doesn’t mean he will become a free agent, or that he wants to.
“If you ask me if it’s possible that I might go to free agency, I would say yes, there is a possibility,” he said. “But if you ask me what are my feelings, at this point I cannot express it. I am not even sure myself what my feelings are. My mind is focused on having the best season this year possible.”
The Mariners don’t comment on negotiations or personnel matters, per club policy, although team CEO Howard Lincoln told reporters last month that he hopes to retain Suzuki.
“I will say this, that it’s my hope Ichiro will finish his career as a Mariner and go into the Hall of Fame as a Mariner,” Lincoln said.
If the feeling is mutual, Suzuki wouldn’t say. He did hint, however, that the Mariners’ performance this season would play a role in his decision.
“Everything that was done in the past was very important,” he said. “Also what happens in the future, in the season, is very important.”
He made it clear that he’s angry about the Mariners’ three straight last-place finishes in the American League West Division and is eager to win again.
“The feeling of unhappiness is something that you can’t get used to in the world of winning and losing,” he said. “So I’m very upset.”
Suzuki will make $11 million in the final year of a four-year, $44 million contract. He wouldn’t rule out negotiation on a new deal during the season, although he said he wouldn’t discuss it any more with the media.
“I really want to concentrate on this season,” he said. “It’s to the point that I want to take a big banner and put it up in the clubhouse, ‘No questions about free agency.’ I still have one year left on my contract and I want to fulfill that contact to the best of my ability.”
Suzuki said he hasn’t approached the Mariners about a contract, and that it’s up to the Mariners to start the discussions. He didn’t know if they had spoken to his agent, and he wouldn’t say if he was prepared to accept an offer if the Mariners made one.
“I don’t have earmuffs on right now,” Suzuki said. “I’m looking and I’m listening.”
Unless he strikes a deal, this will be the first time in Suzuki’s career that he has played out the final year of a contract.
“Up to this point, you could say that I have had an easy road,” he said. “What I need to do is make my own decision on things.”