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Agreement reached days before deadline

SEATTLE -- There's no player like Ichiro Suzuki.

He's got outstanding speed on the bases. He carefully selects
pitches and slaps exciting infield hits. He puts a powerful arm and
Gold Glove defense in right field. Then there's his remarkable
determination to excel.

Oh, did we mention his marketing worth?

The Seattle Mariners recognized the value of the man who
arguably is the face of the franchise, and on Thursday signed Suzuki to a
four-year contract worth $44 million and can make an
additional $1.25 million in performance bonuses.

Suzuki gets a $6 million signing bonus, $5 million 2004 and
annual salaries of $11 million in the final three seasons,
according to contract details obtained by The Associated Press.

In the first three years, he would earn bonuses of $50,000 for
400 plate appearances, and $100,000 each for 500 and 600 plate
appearances. In 2007, he would get $100,000 for 400 plate
appearances and $200,000 each for 500 and 600 plate appearances.

His contract also calls for housing allowances of $28,000 in
2004, $29,000 in 2005, $30,000 in 2006 and $31,000 in 2007. Suzuki
also gets an interpreter, personal trainer, ground transportation
during spring training and the regular season, and four round-trip
first-class plane tickets from Japan to Seattle twice every year.

"He clearly was very happy, and he doesn't show emotion much,"
said Suzuki's agent, Tony Attanasio. "His attitude was one of
satisfaction and elation. The club clearly demonstrated to him that
they do like him, they appreciate him and they really wanted to
keep him around."

There wasn't any question that he was leaving.

General manager Bill Bavasi said the only difficulty in crafting
a contract was finding a way to measure Suzuki against other
players when he does so many things differently -- and much better,
in many cases -- than his peers.

The 30-year-old Suzuki was the AL's MVP and Rookie of the Year
in 2001. He has won Gold Gloves in each of his three major league
seasons.

"He misses nothing," manager Bob Melvin said. "He's
constantly working to make himself a better player. He does
everything very, very well."

The Mariners avoided Saturday night's salary arbitration
deadline with Suzuki. To do otherwise would have looked unfavorable
in Japanese culture, sending a message that club officials were
unable to determine his value.

"In the culture of Ichiro and others like him, it's something
disconcerting for someone other than the club to determine his
worth," Attanasio said.

The team could have offered a one-year contract to avoid
arbitration to Suzuki, who earned a base salary of just under $4.7
million last season.

However, a one-year deal wasn't even an option when preliminary
negotiations began months ago. The agreement involved every member
of Seattle's management team, up to and including majority owner
Hiroshi Yamauchi.

Bavasi said the loss-of-face issue didn't drive or even have an
impact in talks. The front office simply focused on Suzuki's
considerable baseball talents and his status as "a premier
player."

"We aren't going to deny he is special to us. We treated it
that way," Bavasi said. "But what he has earned, in a real nice
contract, was earned through terrific play on the field."

Bavasi was vacationing in New Orleans after the winter meetings
but returned to Seattle on Wednesday for what Attanasio said was a
"make-or-break day" in negotiations. He characterized it that way
because Suzuki plans to return to Japan this weekend.

By any measure, Suzuki is an extraordinary player.

Eight of his 13 home runs last season put the Mariners ahead,
and 20 of his 29 major league homers have tied a game or given
Seattle a lead. His first career grand slam came July 18 at Kansas
City, putting the Mariners up 6-3 in the ninth.

"His game isn't to hit the ball out of ballpark," Melvin said.
"He just has a keen sense of when to do that."

Suzuki will continue to hit leadoff, Melvin said, though he's
coming off a .312 season at the plate, his lowest average in his
three years. He hit .321 in 2002 and .350 in his MVP season.

Suzuki's 662 hits in his first three major league seasons rank
second to Lloyd Waner's 678 from 1927-29. He's only the third
player to record at least 200 hits in each of his first three
seasons.

If Suzuki has a visible weakness, it's his struggles at the
plate late in the past two seasons. He hit .273 in September this
fall and .248 in 2002.

"It's a long season and you're battling at the end," Melvin
said. "Last year was a lot like the year before, but this guy's
given everything he's got every day. We all, as a group, tried to
swing the bats a little more."

Suzuki's value to the franchise goes beyond numbers. Before they
signed him, the Mariners paid more than $13 million just for
negotiating rights. His signing helped the Mariners become
enormously popular in his native Japan.

"What makes him special is the marketability," Bavasi said.
"There's precious few players like that."