SEATTLE — Ichiro Suzuki has agreed to a minor league deal with the Seattle Mariners, paving the way for the 45-year-old to play in the Mariners’ season-opening series in Japan.
Suzuki’s agent, John Boggs, confirmed the agreement on Wednesday and said Suzuki’s deal would become a major league contract if he is added to Seattle’s expanded roster for the two games the Mariners will play against Oakland to open the season in March in Tokyo. Seattle general manager Jerry Dipoto has said Suzuki is expected to be on the roster for those games.
Suzuki started last season playing for the Mariners but transitioned into a front-office role as a “special assistant to the chairman” that allowed him to take part in pregame workouts and batting practice but not to be in the dugout during games. The move ended his season abruptly but with the knowledge that Seattle was opening 2019 in Japan, which would be a highly anticipated opportunity for him to play in his home country. Suzuki was hitting .205 in 44 at-bats during his limited action in 2018, and all nine of his hits this were singles.
But Suzuki has worked out through the offseason with the intent of being ready to open the 2019 season with the big league club. He is expected to be on the list of spring training invitees the Mariners will release on Thursday.
Suzuki was named both the 2001 AL Rookie of the Year and MVP with the Mariners and won a pair of AL batting titles. He was traded to the Yankees midway through 2012, played parts of three seasons with New York, then spent three seasons with Miami.
The 10-time All-Star has a .311 average and 3,089 hits, not including the 1,278 hits he amassed in nine seasons in Japan.
“One thing I’ve learned about Ichiro, his preparation and focus is the best I’ve ever seen in any player I’ve ever encountered,” Dipoto said earlier this month when Seattle introduced new pitcher Yusei Kikuchi. “His single-mindedness in achieving a goal is so real that I won’t put anything past him.”
While it’s likely the Tokyo series will be a farewell for Ichiro, the Mariners do host the Red Sox to begin their U.S. schedule from March 28-31.