Thu, Oct 02, 2003 - Page 20 News List

Mariners to face Suzuki negotiations

NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , SEATTLE

The Mariners' next general manager, whoever takes over for Pat Gillick, will have some daunting challenges.

Should he try to re-sign Mike Cameron? How about Arthur Rhodes?

Should he trade or keep Freddy Garcia? Can he move Jeff Cirillo?

All of those may pale in importance with how the new head man handles negotiations with three-time All-Star right fielder Ichiro Suzuki.

Ichiro, who signed a three-year contract before the 2001 season, isn't a free agent and can't become one before the end of the 2006 season. He's not going to be traded. But he is eligible for salary arbitration, meaning that if no deal can be struck, an arbiter will determine the player's salary next February.

And, agent Tony Attanasio said yesterday, Ichiro would not find that acceptable.

"We are not looking for a one-year deal. Or a two- or three- or five- or 10-year deal," Attanasio said. "What we are looking for is fair representation of what the club thinks this player is worth.

"If we cannot agree to terms, if they force it into arbitration, Ichiro will never voluntarily sign another contract with them."

That being said, Attanasio expects a deal to be struck and arbitration to be avoided. The agent was talking to the club yesterday about Ichiro and his other clients, Mark McLemore, Kazuhiro Sasaki and Ryan Franklin, and will continue to do so.

But he made it clear Ichiro doesn't want to go to arbitration. Not now, not ever.

"He would consider that such a slap in the face," Attanasio said. "A real loss of face."

Ichiro, who made US$3 million in 2003 plus salary bonuses that nearly doubled that, has been one of baseball's brightest stars since coming to Seattle from the Orix BlueWave of the Pacific League in Japan. He won the MVP and Rookie of the Year awards in 2001, and he's started three consecutive All-Star Games.

What the Mariners have to decide is how that plays financially. Is he worth Manny Ramirez/Shawn Green/Sammy Sosa money, something in the US$16 million-US$18 million range? Is he more like Larry Walker or Ken Griffey Jr., down in the US$10 million-US$12 million range?

"Ichiro knows the number," Attanasio said without stating it.

The number has probably gone down some, with Ichiro having had successive seasons with second-half falloffs. After hitting .350 as a rookie and winning the MVP, he fell to .321 in 2002 and to .312 this season.

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