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Mariners sign Ichiro through 2012 season

Ichiro Suzuki

Suzuki

Center Field
Seattle Mariners

Profile

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.