By Tim Booth
AP Sports Writer
SEATTLE (AP) — The plan seems to be in place for Ichiro Suzuki to be on the Seattle Mariners’ expanded roster when they open the regular season with two games in his native Japan.
Seattle general manager Jerry Dipoto isn’t promising anything to the 45-year-old, especially if it gets in the way of developing some of the younger players who are part of the club’s rebuilding plans.
“First we have to envision him being on the 28-man when get to Tokyo,’’ Dipoto said. “Obviously we did agree on a minor-league deal for Ichiro to come to spring training. When we do have hope when we break for Tokyo he is healthy and ready to go. If that is the case we’re going to give him an opportunity to play. But this season for us is about giving an opportunity to young players.’’
Suzuki was announced as one of Seattle’s spring training invitees on Jan. 24 after he agreed to a minor league contract with the club. If Suzuki is added to the major league roster — as is expected for the games against the Oakland Athletics in Tokyo on March 20 and 21 — he would receive a one-year contract paying $750,000 while in the major leagues.
But Dipoto made clear that developing younger players will be critical as part of Seattle’s intent to be able to contend by the 2021 season.
“A lot of it is going to be up to Ichiro. Our intent with Ichiro is to bring one of the great players in the history of baseball … back to the playing field and see what happens, especially since this is what he wants to do. We want to handle Ichiro with all the respect and gratitude in the world for what he has done for the Mariners organization and really celebrate him for what he has done globally for baseball,’’ Dipoto said. “What happens after we come back from Tokyo? First we have to ensure he’s healthy enough to be on our roster in order to go, but when we come back our goal is to develop our young players. I don’t know how more clearly I can say that.’’
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.
Suzuki was voted 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.