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SEATTLE (Reuters) – The Seattle Mariners signed Japanese center fielder Ichiro Suzuki to a five-year contract extension reported to be worth about $100 million.
The new contract, announced on Friday, makes Ichiro — known almost exclusively by his first name — one of highest paid players in baseball and keeps the speedy outfielder with the American League team until the end of the 2012 season.
Ichiro, 33, became the first position player born in Japan to play in Major League Baseball when he debuted for the Mariners in 2001, winning both Rookie of the Year and Most Valuable Player awards.
He has also won six consecutive Gold Gloves and set the record for most hits in a season in 2004 with 262 hits. This week, he was named MVP of the All-Star game going 3-for-3 with the first ever inside-the-park home run in the mid-summer classic.
“Getting to play for one team their entire (Major League) career is not something many players get to do,” Ichiro said at a news conference. “Having that choice made me happy.”
Known for a powerful arm and rare bat control, Ichiro helped to validate the talent in Japan’s professional league and opened the door for many players from his homeland to Major League Baseball.
Prior to his arrival in the United States, Ichiro won seven straight batting titles in Japan with the Orix Blue Wave.
Local media outlets reported earlier in the week that Ichiro and the team were close to an agreement worth more than $100 million. If the two sides had not come to an agreement, Ichiro would have tested the free-agent market.
“You have to understand what a terrific opportunity he’s passed up. He’s taken himself off a real aggressive free-agent market,” said Bill Bavasi, the Mariners’ general manager.
Prior to the season, Ichiro had said that the team’s poor performance over the last few seasons would factor into his decision on whether to remain in Seattle. But a strong start to this season encouraged him to re-sign.
“After struggling for the last few years, we’re starting to put it together so I think there is a lot for this team over the next five years,” said Ichiro.
The team is 50-36 and two games behind the Los Angeles Angels in the American League West. Ichiro is batting .355 with five home runs, 39 runs batted in and 23 stolen bases.
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