Ichiro says free agency a possibility

Ichiro says free agency after '07 a possibility

PEORIA, Ariz. -- Ichiro Suzuki wasn't exactly dismissive of the notion of free agency on Tuesday when he met with reporters after the Mariners held their first full-squad workout at the Peoria Sports Complex.

The Mariners' center fielder, who is entering the final year of the four-year extension that he signed after the 2003 season, also said the team's ultimate success in 2007 could play a role in his decision to return to Seattle.

"I have played 15 years of professional baseball, including Japan," Ichiro said, speaking through interpreter Ken Barron. "And I have never filed for free agency. So, I've never had the choice to choose for myself which road I want to take. I've never had to do that in the past. So, if you ask me 'Is it possible that I might go to free agency?' I would say 'Yes, there's a possibility.'

"But if you ask me what are my feelings toward it, at this point I cannot express it. I am not even sure myself. But what I can say is my mind is full of having the best season possible."

The six-time Gold Glove outfielder said that he would not answer further questions about his contract status after Tuesday's meeting with the media, joking that he wants to hang a big banner in the clubhouse that says, "No questions about free agency."

Ichiro -- who signed a four-year, $44 million extension before the 2004 season -- said that he was unaware of any current negotiations between his agent, Tony Attanasio, and the team.

Wearing a pink shirt, knit hat and jeans, Ichiro spoke with Japanese reporters outside the Mariners' clubhouse and later the American press. He laughed at times, even while faced with the uncertainty of his future in Seattle.

"I'm not ear-muffing my ears right now. I'm looking and I'm listening," Ichiro said. "I still have a one-year contract left. I want to fulfill that contract to the best of my abilities. I'm thankful that everyone is thinking about this and paying attention to it."

Ichiro, 33, said that three consecutive last-place finishes in the American League West have not sat well with him.

"The feeling of getting upset is something you cannot get used to," he said. "So I am very upset."

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Ichiro -- who in 2004 set the Major League single-season record for hits with 262 -- was asked about the many changes the team made in the offseason to upgrade the roster, like the signings of free agents Jeff Weaver, Miguel Batista and Jose Guillen.

"I feel everything that was done in the past and built up to this point is a very important part," he said. "But what happens in the future is also very important."

He indicated that his willingness to sign a contract could depend on what kind of a start the team gets off to this season.

"Even when we finish Spring Training, I won't even know at that point," he said. "We'll have to get into April and May where I could answer that question."

The Mariners have a standing policy about not discussing contracts with current players, though general manager Bill Bavasi said last month that getting a deal done with Ichiro was a "top priority."

Last week, Mariners chairman and chief executive officer Howard Lincoln told The Associated Press, "It's my hope Ichiro will finish his career as a Mariner ... and go into the Hall of Fame as a Mariner."

Seattle manager Mike Hargrove doesn't expect Ichiro's contract status to be a distraction at all during the upcoming season.

"Players are really good at compartmentalizing things," he said. "He understands he's got a job to do and that affects how things turn out in the end. Ichiro is a strong-minded person."

Corey Brock is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.