M's set to sign Ichiro to 5-year deal
Seattle Times staff reporter
SAN FRANCISCO — One of the Mariners' biggest concerns this season is about to be resolved.
The club is on the verge of locking up Ichiro, its All-Star outfielder whose contract was set to expire after the season, to a five-year contract extension, The Seattle Times has learned. Indications are the deal will approach $100 million and could be announced Friday.
An agreement is said to be imminent. Though it is not yet signed, all sides appear to be in agreement in principle on the parameters of the deal, which would run through the 2012 season.
Ichiro would neither confirm nor deny the report today, dancing around the question of whether he had agreed to an extension.
"In this business there are some things you can't say or are not allowed to say," Ichiro said before playing in the All-Star Game. "At the same time, you don't want to lie, either."
Ichiro said, "I haven't signed any contract," but would not directly answer questions about whether he had reached an agreement. "It's the same as I said [Monday], I'm going to sign a contract sometime and play somewhere in the world."
Mariners closer J.J. Putz, the team's other All-Star, said today the agreement was news to him, but hoped it was true.
"He's what makes it happen for us, from the very first pitch of the game," Putz said.
Ichiro said Monday that the team's performance this year had changed his thinking about re-upping with the club. In spring training, he indicated he was leaning toward filing for free agency after the season, but now he is set to remain a part of the club's long-term future.
Ichiro signed a four-year, $41 million contract before the 2004 season that will pay him $11 million this season. He is making his seventh straight All-Star appearance and his sixth start this season. He will lead off and play center field for the American League squad tonight at AT&T Park.
Ichiro is a two-time batting champion and was the American League most valuable player in 2001, his first year after coming over from Japan to considerable fanfare. The Mariners paid a $13.1 million posting fee to his Japanese team, the Orix BlueWave, for the rights to Ichiro, and then signed him to a three-year, $14 million contract.
In 2004, Ichiro set a major-league record with 262 hits. He is having another strong season in 2007, reaching the All-Star break with a .359 average, 61 runs, 128 hits, 39 runs batted in, and 23 stolen bases in 25 attempts.
On Monday, Ichiro said the Mariners' strong first half -- a 49-36 record that left them in second place, 2½ games behind the Angels had "definitely influenced" his decision on his future. He praised the talent of the club and said that it had shed the losing culture that developed from three straight last-place finishes.
"At this point right now,'' Ichiro said on Monday, "I don't see a speck of that kind of mentality, with this team we have right now."
And now Ichiro is ready to stay with the Mariners for the long haul.