By LARRY LaRUE
The News Tribune
The News Tribune
By the time you’re reading about the Apple Cup game on Sunday, Ichiro Suzuki could be a Seattle Mariner.
Sources with the team say negotiations between the Japanese outfielder – one of his nation’s best-known sports figures – and the Mariners have reached the point where a weekend signing is likely.
If that happens, it will be even bigger news in Japan than in Seattle.
“Our first press conference would be in Japan,” a team source said. “And we’d probably have a second in Seattle a few days later. Ichiro may be the best-known player in Japan and there’s a lot of interest in his coming to the big leagues.”
On Nov. 9, the Mariners earned the right to negotiate with Suzuki, a seven-time batting champion, by bidding $13.125 million – money that will go to Suzuki’s Orix Blue Wave team should the Mariners sign him.
A right fielder projected as a potential leadoff hitter, Suzuki has a .353 lifetime batting average in Japan, and has won a batting title in each of his seven full seasons.
Although he has one year remaining on his contract with the Blue Wave, Suzuki asked for the right to be allowed to play in the major leagues next season.
If he does so, he’ll become the first Japanese position player to play in the big leagues.
“For years, Japanese pitchers have been ahead of the hitters, which is why you’ve seen a few of them come to the United States and pitch well,” one Seattle scout said. “Given that, Suzuki hitting over .370 last season makes us believe he can hit pretty well here, too.”
Suzuki, 27, would join this year’s American League Rookie of the Year – Japanese right-hander Kazuhiro Sasaki – on the Seattle roster.
Negotiations have gone smoothly this week, in part because Suzuki clearly wants to play in the majors and the Mariners just as clearly want him to do so in a Seattle uniform. Though Suzuki was seeking a four-year deal and the Mariners initially offered three years, the two sides weren’t far apart on the financial aspects of the deal.
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