Mariners sign Ichiro through 2012 season
SEATTLE -- Great week to be Ichiro Suzuki.
The Seattle leadoff man signed a $90 million, five-year contract extension Friday, three days after he was the unanimous MVP of the All-Star Game.
The deal ensures Seattle, enjoying its best season in four years, will not lose its franchise cornerstone to free agency this fall. Instead, the Mariners will keep the seven-time All-Star and perennial Gold Glove outfielder under contract until age 39.
When asked whose counsel he valued most during contract negotiations that began in January, he said, "Ikky, my dog."
"He said, 'Ruff, ruff, ruff,"' a smiling Suzuki said through an interpreter. "That means, 'Stay, stay, stay."'
Seattle won the bidding to sign him to come, come, come out of Japan before 2001. Then the Mariners signed him to an extension in 2004 that is paying him $11 million this season.
"Now, I have the opportunity to be on one team for a long time. And I am grateful for that," Suzuki said at a press conference announcing the richest contract in Mariners history.
"I'm going to do my best to play 10 more years here."
Suzuki, the first player in major league history with 200 hits in each of his first six seasons, led the majors with 128 hits going into Friday night's game against Detroit. He was batting .355 with five home runs and 39 RBIs, and had stolen 23 bases.
"We're signing here a Hall of Fame-type player," general manager Bill Bavasi said.
As Mariners president Chuck Armstrong said, "He is our icon."
The contract contains a $5 million signing bonus and base salaries of $17 million for each season from 2008-2012, with part of the money deferred. Because of the deferred money, the average annual value is discounted to about $16.5 million.
Suzuki's agent, Tony Attanasio, refused to specify how much cash is deferred, but said it is a multimillion dollar chunk with interest of at least 2 percent. He said that the $126 million, seven-year extension signed by Toronto center fielder Vernon Wells in December was a prime consideration in negotiating Suzuki's deal.
Armstrong jabbed back at those such as Florida Marlins president David Samson who think Suzuki's new deal is irresponsible.
"I can think of about 12 to 15 other contracts that I would qualify as beyond the pale," Armstrong said, adding he has exchanged e-mails with Samson regarding his comments this week to a Miami radio station blasting Suzuki's imminent deal.
"This contract fits very well with what we want to accomplish here -- and does not take the industry off any prudent course."
Mariners chairman and CEO Howard Lincoln said Japanese billionaire Hiroshi Yamauchi signed off on the deal. Yamauchi is the Nintendo company mogul and former Mariners owner who sold his shares of the team three years ago but remains its chief to whom Lincoln reports regularly. But Attanasio said Yamauchi was not directly involved in the negotiations.
Lincoln acknowledged the risk in giving so much guaranteed money to a man approaching 40 years old by the end of the deal.
"But in Ichiro's case, it's a very acceptable risk" because the center fielder's supreme fitness and preparation, he said.
"He may be 33, but in a much younger body.
"The idea is, we're going to get a World Series and bring it to Seattle and win it while he's here. He is going into the Hall of Fame, and he's going to wear a Mariners uniform."
In spring training, Suzuki declared he was intrigued by the prospect of becoming a free agent for the first time and that he was tired of losing in Seattle.
"Ichiro wasn't sure he wanted to stay here," Attanasio said.
Said Bavasi: "You have to understand the great opportunity he passed up. He's taken himself off a really aggressive market."
Then as he played in Boston, New York, Los Angeles and Chicago this spring, Suzuki began imagining himself playing in those cities next season. He said fans in each city kept clamoring for him to "please come to our team. To be honest, I was moved."
"Also, the fans in Japan asked me to come back to Japan and play," Suzuki said. "But in the end, when coming back to Seattle and the fans asked me to stay here, that was the moment that meant the most to me. That's when I decided."
He said he's so enamored with Seattle that he may still have signed to stay even if the Mariners hadn't turned themselves from the last place team in the AL West the previous three seasons into one that was 14 games over .500 and two games out of the division lead entering Friday.
"We're at a place where all our hard work is blossoming," he said.
Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press
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