Mariners mull moving down Ichiro

SEATTLE -- Ichiro Suzuki might begin his final guaranteed season with the Seattle Mariners somewhere other than the leadoff spot that he's locked down for the past decade.

Seattle manager Eric Wedge said Thursday during the Mariners' pre-spring training luncheon that he's leaning toward moving Suzuki out of the leadoff spot as a way to try to bolster the Mariners' anemic offense.

Wedge doesn't believe that's a slight on Suzuki's ability to continue being a leadoff hitter, even with the 10-time All-Star coming off the worst season of his career.

"It's as much to do with his teammates as it has to do with him with regard to the collective nine that we're putting down on paper," Wedge said. "I haven't made any firm decisions. I made it very clear over the winter I was thinking about it. I'm even further down the road to where I'm leaning in that direction to have (Suzuki) hit somewhere else."

Moving Suzuki out of the leadoff spot was part of an on-again, off-again debate during the 2011 season as Suzuki struggled. He hit just .272, failed to reach 200 hits for the first time in his career -- finishing with 184 -- and had an on-base percentage 40 points below his previous career worst.

Suzuki, who turned 38 in October, is entering the final year of a contract that will pay him $17 million in 2012 and will be in a lineup that will be extremely young by the time Seattle opens the regular season on March 28 against Oakland in Suzuki's native Japan.

"I know it's a big deal to everybody. I can't get caught up in that. My job is to make sure I communicate that to Ichiro, make sure everybody understands exactly what the options are and what they're fighting for and what I'm thinking about and that's what I'm going to continue to do," Wedge said. "Right now I'm going to be very open minded to what we're going to do but I'm going to head into spring training leaning a certain direction and we'll make the decisions from there."

If Wedge makes the change, he said he was considering young prospect Dustin Ackley, Franklin Gutierrez and even Chone Figgins as possible replacements in the leadoff role. Ackley would seem the most likely after his debut last year. He played in 90 games, hit .273 with an on-base percentage of .348 and walked 40 times. Wedge considers Suzuki a possible option to bat second or third.

"Ultimately it's not just about Ichiro, it's about our club and his 24 other teammates," Wedge said. "And Ichiro understands that and I damn sure understand that. So what we're going to do is make sure we put out the best lineup possible to score more runs. It's unacceptable the amount of runs we've scored the last couple of years."