PEORIA, Arizona (Kyodo) -- Veteran outfielder Ichiro Suzuki is close to re-signing with the Seattle Mariners, a source familiar with U.S. baseball matters said Monday.
The 44-year-old Japanese had been training in Kobe preparing for his 18th season in Major League Baseball after his three-year stint with the Miami Marlins came to an end last November, making him a free agent.
According to MLB.com, Suzuki is set to sign after he passes a physical which takes place Monday afternoon in Seattle, but the Mariners have yet to confirm the reports.
As the transfer news concerning Suzuki, dubbed a future Hall of Famer, reached Japan, there was more joy than disappointment after speculation linking him with a return to the Orix Buffaloes heated up in his home country.
"I believe he wanted to play over there (in the majors) so I'm happy for him. I really hope he continues his major league career for as long as possible," said Orix manager Junichi Fukura, a former teammate of Suzuki's.
Suzuki ranks 22nd on the all-time list with 3,080 MLB career hits.
He was the first Japanese player to move to the majors via the posting system, signing with the Mariners in November 2000 after they won exclusive negotiating rights with a bid of $13 million. He is also the first position player from Japan to sign with a major league club.
In 2001, Suzuki hit .350 with 242 hits and 56 stolen bases to earn the American League Rookie of the Year and AL MVP awards. After 11 full seasons with the Mariners during which time he became a 10-time All-Star and 10-time Gold Glove winner, Suzuki joined the New York Yankees in a midseason trade.
Last year, Suzuki played 136 games for the Marlins, mainly as a pinch hitter, with only 22 starts as an outfielder. He batted .255 with three home runs and 20 RBIs, and his 27 pinch hits left him one shy of the single-season record.
In Japan, Suzuki played for the Orix BlueWave (now Buffaloes) for nine seasons. He won seven consecutive Pacific League batting titles in 1994-2000 and three straight PL MVP awards from 1994 to 1996.