USA Today is reporting that the Mariners are close to a major-league deal with the 44-year-old Ichiro, a fan favorite who was a 10-time All-Star with the Mariners from 2001-12.
PEORIA, Ariz. — Ichiro is set to return home to the Mariners and the city of Seattle.
The expected reunion has yet to become official because the iconic outfielder still must pass a team physical before the agreement of a one-year contract can be announced.
But baseball sources confirmed that Ichiro and the Mariners have reached an agreement and an announcement could come as early as Tuesday morning. Ichiro was in Seattle to take the physical and could arrive at Mariners camp Tuesday.
It was just last season that it appeared the one-time Seattle superstar had played his final game at Safeco Field, as a member of the Marlins.
He provided a glimpse of his former glory, smashing a homer over the wall in right field in his final at-bat of the series. At the time, he admitted it may have been his last plate appearance at Safeco Field and he wanted to make it special.
“It was my last at-bat, obviously, and the last chance,” he said through his interpreter after that game. “With the game the way it was going, that’s what I wanted to hit, right there. I saw the ball go over the fence and I have to pinch myself to make sure that really happened. I feel grateful that happened.”
Asked then about his affection for the Mariners, the team he had a place he had 2,532 hits with, and Seattle, he replied: “This is home.”
At age 44 and with his All-Star level days behind him, the circle of his major-league career returns to where it started for him, a place where he became a phenomenon.
He was a superstar in Japan, then joined the Mariners in 2001, the last Seattle team to make the postseason.
That storied team tied the major-league record of 116 wins, with Ichiro leading the way.
He led the American League with a .350 batting average while amassing 242 hits, the most for a rookie since 1930. He led the majors with 56 stolen bases and was named the American League Most Valuable Player and Rookie of the Year.
He defied logic on the field. Hardly imposing at 5 feet 11 and roughly 175 pounds, he was a bundle of speed, athleticism and excitement. Every ground ball he hit to the left side of the field was a possible hit. His throwing arm seemed to be touched by a lightning bolt, unleashing laser throws that left the late Dave Niehaus roaring on the television broadcast in delight.
While he never reached the postseason with the Mariners again, Ichiro set Mariner and MLB records. In 2004 season, he racked up 262 hits in 161 games, surpassing the then 84-year-old record of 257 hits in a season held by George Sisler.
In his each of first 10 seasons with the Mariners, Ichiro surpassed the 200-hit mark. He was named to the All-Star game in those first 10 seasons, while earning Gold Glove awards in each of those seasons.
With the Mariners in the midst of a losing season in 2012 and the future not looking good, Ichiro asked for a trade to the Yankees. That deal happened while the Yankees were playing at Safeco Field. Ichiro simply switched clubhouses and walked onto the field in a different uniform a day later.
He played two more seasons with the Yankees before playing the last three with the Marlins as a part-time player. He reached the career milestone of 3,000 hits on August 7, 2016, and experts expect he will be a first-ballot Hall of Fame.
In his major-league career, Ichiro has a .312 batting average with 3,080 hits and 509 stolen bases. He is the Mariners’ career leader in batting average (.322), hits (2,533) and stolen bases (438) and is second in runs scored (1,176).
This wasn’t a move soley for nostalgic purposes. The decision to bring him back was made necessary when the team announced Monday morning that starting left fielder Ben Gamel had been diagnosed with a strained oblique muscle and would be out 4 to 6 weeks.
Gamel’s absence and the lack of healthy or experienced in-house replacement options made the acquisition of a free agent outfielder a possibility.
Last season, Ichiro made $2 million as a backup outfielder and pinch-hitter with the Marlins. He appeared in 136 games, predominantly as a pinch-hitter and hit .255.
He started just 22 games in the outfield last season and his role with the Mariners would be similar to what it was with the Marlins.
From his time in Florida, Ichiro has close relationship with Gordon and David Phelps.
Kyle Seager, Felix Hernandez, Hisashi Iwakuma and Erasmo Ramirez are the only current Mariners who played with Ichiro in his first tour with the Mariners along with hitting coach Edgar Martinez.
The No. 51 has not been worn since Ichiro left. But it will return again.