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Sports : Saturday, October 14, 2000

Mariners interested in outfielder Suzuki
By Bob Finnigan and Bob Sherwin
Seattle Times staff reporters

Reports that Ichiro Suzuki may be available a year before he reaches free agency as a 10-year veteran in Japan are not new to the Mariners.

Two months ago, Seattle team officials knew they had a chance to get the talented outfielder.

Suzuki said Thursday that he would be a free agent Nov. 1, and he wants to play in the United States.

Suzuki, 26, is a seven-time batting champion who hit .387 for the Orix Blue Wave this year. He also is a close friend of Seattle closer Kazu Sasaki.

Sasaki called Suzuki when the pitcher agreed to sign with Seattle last winter and supposedly told the outfielder, who worked out with the Mariners during 1999 spring training, that he would lead the way to Seattle, "and you can follow."

Mariner officials say it is not that easy, that a player who leaves Japan before he formally becomes a free agent, like Sasaki last year, must be "posted."

"There are specific posting rules," said Howard Lincoln, Mariner CEO, "and the Mariners intend to follow them. If Suzuki is posted, we'll make a decision then whether to pursue the matter."

Posting involves bidding among major-league clubs, with the money going to the Japanese club and the highest bidder earning the right to negotiate with the player. If the player does not like the team with the winning bid, he can refuse the bid and stay with his team in Japan.

Since Mariner owner Hiroshi Yamauchi was a major factor in the signing of Sasaki, even making a rare public appearance at his contract-signing news conference, he might be expected to do no less to acquire Suzuki.