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February 20, 2007 at 12:48 PM

Ichiro won’t rule out free agency

Tell you all what, if Ichiro was looking to deflect some of the speculation about his future with the Mariners, he didn’t do a good job of that here today. More like he threw some gas on the flames.
Ichiro wrapped up his first spring session with reporters 10 minutes ago by saying he still isn’t sure whether he’ll remain in Seattle and added that the coming season will play a role in his decision.
“I’ve played 15 years of professional baseball, including Japan,” Ichiro said, speaking through an interpreter. “And I have never filed for free-agency. So, I’ve never had the choice to choose for myself which road I want to take. I’ve never had to do that in the past. So, if you ask me ‘Is it possible that I might go to free-agency?’ I would say ‘Yes. it is a possibility.’
“But if you ask me ‘What are my feelings about it?’ I cannot express it. I’m not even sure myself what my feelings towards it are at this point.”
Not exactly a ringing endorsement of all things Mariner. Ichiro was given several opportunities to clarify his statement but did not back down from the premise that he truly is considering free agency. And he made clear that he will be paying close attention during the first few months of the season to see how the team looks.
“I feel that everything that was done in the past and built up to this point is a very important part,” he said. “But what happens in the future is also very important.”
So, there you have it. And just to make things more interesting, Ichiro says he won’t answer any more questions about his contract status this season. He says he is not aware of the status of any negotiations between his agent and the Mariners or whether the team has even made him an offer. Chances are, if an offer had been made, he’d have been told about it. When asked how he feels about the three consecutive last place finishes by the team, after such a good start to his career, he quipped: “The feeling of getting upset is something you cannot get used to. So, I am very upset.”
Let the trade speculation begin. If it doesn’t start here, it certainly will heat up around MLB if Ichiro makes it to May or June without a deal in sight.
Just to end on another happy note, it now seems that the Mark Lowe MRI may not be the slam dunk, rubber stamp it first appeared to be. Lowe told me today that another arthroscopic surgery may have to take place if tomorrow’s MRI on his elbow finds something that is preventing him from further extending it. Lowe presently cannot extend his right elbow as far as he can his left.
Lowe did add that any additional surgery would “only” set him back about two weeks and that he will pitch in 2007. “I don’t even think about it,” he said. “I know I’m going to come back.”
But manager Mike Hargrove wasn’t nearly as optimistic when the question was put to him.
“Am I counting on seeing him this year? No,” he said of Lowe after a long pause. “But that doesn’t mean I’m hoping we won’t see him back.”

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