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With no MLB offer, Ichiro might return to Japan

Agent holding out hope that he can find a big league job for outfielder
MLB.com @boomskie

SAN DIEGO -- The Major League Baseball career of Ichiro Suzuki may be fading to black, the video term for the end of a production or show.

At 44 years old, Ichiro has been pitched this offseason to most of the 30 Major League teams, thus far without any success. Spring Training is less than a month away. The lefty-swinging hitter with 3,080 career big league knocks wants to continue playing baseball, and if he isn't able to do so here, he may finish his iconic career in Japan where it all began, said his San Diego-based agent, John Boggs.

SAN DIEGO -- The Major League Baseball career of Ichiro Suzuki may be fading to black, the video term for the end of a production or show.

At 44 years old, Ichiro has been pitched this offseason to most of the 30 Major League teams, thus far without any success. Spring Training is less than a month away. The lefty-swinging hitter with 3,080 career big league knocks wants to continue playing baseball, and if he isn't able to do so here, he may finish his iconic career in Japan where it all began, said his San Diego-based agent, John Boggs.

"I don't really like to think about that," Boggs told MLB.com on Tuesday morning. "As every day goes by, I keep holding out hope that somebody will realize that he would be a tremendous asset for any organization."

Video: MIA@COL: Ichiro runs 19.8 MPH on 3,000th career hit

Ichiro, a certain first-ballot electee to the National Baseball Hall of Fame when the time comes, played the past three seasons in Miami. When new ownership recently took over the Marlins, it decided to give him a $500,000 buyout rather than exercise his $2 million option for the 2018 season.

Since then, Boggs said he's had extensive conversations with the Mariners and Padres, but to no avail. Both teams have moved on.

Ichiro, now a backup outfielder and pinch-hitter, has said he would like to play baseball until he's 50, and he is still in the type of physical condition to do it.

"I feel like a big dog at a pet shop that hasn't been sold," he said last month in Japan. "Of course, I want to play baseball next year."

About the possibility of playing in Japan for the first time since 2000, Ichiro added:

"When you use the word 'possibility,' there are many things -- it means anything is possible as long as it's not zero."

Complicating matters in MLB is the fact there are still a number of attractive free-agent outfielders available in a sluggish market, including J.D. Martinez, Lorenzo Cain and Carlos Gonzalez. Jay Bruce just agreed to a three-year, $39 million free-agent deal to return to the Mets, who traded him to Cleveland last season.

"We had great hopes at the beginning of all this that the Mariners would bring him back," Boggs said. "I wish there was more activities with clubs. I understand there are a lot of outfielders still out there."

Ichiro spent his first 11 1/2 seasons in Seattle before being traded to the Yankees midway through the 2012 season. In his first 10 seasons, he accumulated at least 200 hits each year, including an all-time single-season record of 262 in '04.

Including his 1,278 hits during nine seasons with the Orix Blue Wave in Japan's Pacific League, Ichiro holds the all-time professional record with 4,358 hits.

Video: MIA@COL: Ichiro triples for his 3,000th hit

Boggs took over as Ichiro's agent in 2014, when the outfielder left the Yankees as a free agent. Like this year, Boggs found it hard to place Ichiro, who had negotiated his own deal to return to Orix in the event that he had no offer from an MLB team. The Marlins ultimately stepped in and signed him on Jan. 27, 2015. Ichiro became the first player of Japanese heritage to reach 3,000th hits in 2016, when he batted .291 and played in 143 games, starting 59 in the outfield.

"After he got his 3,000th hit, I realized what he told me all along -- that it wasn't about setting records, records come in time," Boggs said. "It was about playing the game of baseball, which he absolutely loves."

Last year, with Giancarlo Stanton, Christian Yelich and Marcell Ozuna getting most of the outfield starts for Miami, Ichiro played in 136 games, but made only 23 starts. He went from 365 plate appearances in 2016 to 215. Still, Ichiro batted .255 and had 50 hits, 27 of them pinch-hits, falling one short of the single-season record set in 1995 by John Vander Wal, then with the Rockies.

"The uniqueness of Ichiro lends to any team that will give him an opportunity to play," Boggs said. "To me, if you give him more at-bats, he's going to deliver."

Boggs said he will continue to make the rounds until he gets a bite.

"They know he's out there," Boggs said. "There was some hope with the Mets, and they signed Jay Bruce. There was some hope with the Reds if they moved Billy Hamilton, and then that didn't pan out. We're just waiting for the next shoe to drop. We keep being told, 'Check back, check back,' and I can say that with a half-dozen teams."

Spring Training starts earlier in Japan than it does in the U.S. The clock is obviously ticking.

Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow @boomskie on Twitter.

Ichiro Suzuki