Mariners sign Ichiro ahead of series in Japan

Ichiro Suzuki agreed to a minor league contract with the Seattle Mariners on Wednesday, paving the way for the team to activate him for a season-opening series in Japan as a likely send-off to his Hall of Fame career.

Suzuki, 45, unofficially retired last May and took a front-office job with the Mariners, whom he joined as a 27-year-old after a storied career in Japan.

Part of the agreement reached Wednesday, confirmed by agent John Boggs to The Associated Press, was that Suzuki would join the Mariners for their March 17-18 exhibition games against the Yomiuri Giants and then added to the team’s expanded roster for a two-game regular-season series against the Oakland Athletics on March 20-21 at the Tokyo Dome.

The deal, which will be officially announced Thursday and includes an invitation to spring training, does not preclude the Mariners from keeping Suzuki on their roster after the games in Tokyo. His struggles in a return engagement with the Mariners last season were apparent, however, and his transition to a job as special assistant to the chairman coincided with his removal from the team’s active roster after he hit .205/.255/.205.

Suzuki hopes to end his career on a better note in front of a country that still reveres him. After logging 1,278 hits over nine seasons with the Orix Blue Wave, Suzuki compiled 3,089 hits in 18 major league seasons, won a pair of batting titles and made 10 consecutive All-Star Games.

His career .311 batting average is third among active players, and during those 10 All-Star seasons, Suzuki batted .331 and had at least 200 hits each year.

His return comes in the midst of a Mariners rebuild that saw them trade a number of core players this winter, including ace James Paxton, All-Star closer Edwin Diaz, second baseman Robinson Cano, shortstop Jean Segura, catcher Mike Zunino and reliever Alex Colome.