Seattle signs Suzuki

Published 12:00 am Friday, December 19, 2003

SEATTLE - Right fielder Ichiro Suzuki agreed Thursday to a four-year contract with the Mariners, ensuring the three-time All-Star with Gold Glove defense and exciting leadoff hitting will remain in Seattle.

The 30-year-old Suzuki was the AL's MVP and Rookie of the Year in 2001 and he won Gold Gloves in each of his three major league seasons.

General manager Bill Bavasi was vacationing in New Orleans after the winter meetings but returned to Seattle on Wednesday for what Suzuki's agent, Tony Attanasio, told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer was a ''make-or-break day'' in negotiations.

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The Mariners faced a Saturday deadline to offer Suzuki a 2004 contract.

Suzuki hit .312 this year, his lowest average in his three seasons.

His value to the franchise, though, goes beyond numbers. He's one of the team's most marketable stars, especially considering the Mariners are enormously popular in his native Japan.

Suzuki's 662 hits in his first three major league season rank second to Lloyd Waner's 678 from 1927-29. He's only the third player to record at least 200 hits in each of his first three seasons.

His arm is one of the strongest in baseball, and he had 12 outfield assists last season.

The Mariners face decisions about whether to offer contracts to several other players, including right-handers Freddy Garcia, Gil Meche and Joel Piniero and catcher Ben Davis.