Mariners bring back 44-year-old Ichiro
PEORIA, Ariz. — Ichiro Suzuki's wish was granted. He is back in the familiar white and blue jersey of the Seattle Mariners.
"Even in the offseason when I would go back to Japan, I always came back to Seattle. This was my home ... has always been my home," the 44-year-old outfielder said through a translator Wednesday after finalizing a $750,000, one-year contract. "Somewhere deep inside, I wanted to return and wear this uniform again."
Almost six years away, Suzuki returned to help patch an injury-depleted outfield on the team he played for from 2001-12. The 10-time All-Star can earn an additional $1.25 million in performance bonuses based on plate appearances: $200,000 each for 150 and each additional 50 through 350, and $250,000 for 400.
Suzuki earned 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 New York Yankees midway through 2012, played parts of three seasons with the Yankees, then spent three seasons with Miami.
He has a .312 average and 3,080 hits, not including the 1,278 hits he amassed in nine seasons in Japan. Suzuki appeared in 136 games last year for the Miami Marlins and hit .255 with a .318 on-base percentage.
"I still have things that I want to do and I want to accomplish," Suzuki said. "I'm really thinking about this year and what the Seattle Mariners need, what I can do to help. Everything that I've gained, everything that I've done in my career, I want to just give it all right here in Seattle."
Mariners general manager Jerry Dipoto said discussions about Suzuki's return intensified about a week ago, when the club's injury situation became a greater concern.
"It did not take very long to put a deal together that brought Ichiro back home," Dipoto said, adding that Suzuki's presence will help a young outfield and veteran Dee Gordon, who is playing center field for the first time.
"It's huge for our club and our ability to step forward," Dipoto said.
Projected left fielder Ben Gamel is sidelined for at least a month with a strained oblique muscle, Right fielder Mitch Haniger is dealing with a hand injury that has limited his activity for a couple of weeks, and Guillermo Heredia is still in the final stages of recovery from offseason shoulder surgery.
Suzuki underwent a physical in Seattle on Monday. His return is similar to the Mariners' reunion with Ken Griffey Jr. in 2009 that was good for one year but had an ugly conclusion.
Seattle has significant concerns about depth in the outfield. Other options were available, including free agents Jose Bautista, Carlos Gonzalez and Jon Jay.
"Bringing him in, what he can do on the field, still think he's got plenty left in the tank there," Mariners manager Scott Servais said. "What he adds in the clubhouse I think is very, very valuable."
Suzuki is slated to play left field and will need a few days of workouts and batting practice before he plays in a game, Servais said.
Suzuki had 2,533 hits with the Mariners, including 262 in 2004 when he set the big league season record. His trade to New York during the 2012 season was a stunning conclusion to his time in Seattle, but gave Suzuki the chance to play in the postseason for the first time since his rookie season.
Suzuki reunites with former Yankees teammates Robinson Cano and David Phelps, and he played with Gordon and Phelps in Miami. Third baseman Kyle Seager, pitcher Felix Hernandez and hitting coach Edgar Martinez were Suzuki's teammates in Seattle before he was traded.
On Wednesday, a stall in the Mariners' spring training clubhouse awaited Suzuki, situated between journeyman outfielder Kirk Niewenhuis and starting shortstop Jean Segura. The team shop at the Peoria Sports Complex was already stocked with shirts and jerseys bearing Suzuki's No. 51. ore merchandise was en route.