AMELIA ISLAND, Fla. (AP) -- One of the most intriguing bidding competitions at baseball's general manager meetings involves a player few GMs have even seen play.
The bidding for the negotiating rights to Ichiro Suzuki, the top hitter in Japan, came to a close Wednesday. Fitting for a competition whose contestants are mostly in Florida this week, it could take days to find out who is the winner.
The Orix BlueWave, Suzuki's team in Japan, which had until next week to accept the offer, announced in Tokyo on Thursday that it accepted a top offer of $13.125 million from an undisclosed major league team to negotiate with Suzuki.
"It's an unbelievable number," Suzuki said from Japan. "I haven't heard the name of the team yet, but for now I'm relieved that there's been a show of interest in me."
The winning team has 30 days to negotiate a contract with Suzuki, and the team pays the fee to Orix only if it signs Suzuki. If Suzuki doesn't sign, he will remain in Japan for at least one more season.
Suzuki, 27, hit .387 this season to win his seventh straight Pacific League batting title. Suzuki is a career .353 hitter with 118 home runs and 529 RBIs in nine seasons in Japan.
"He has ability to be a starting outfielder for most major league teams," said Mets assistant GM Omar Minaya, whose team made one of the sealed bids for Suzuki. "He has the ability to be a good player, but it is too early to say if he can be a star. It's not fair to put those labels on him."
About 15 teams were expected to be involved in the bidding process, with Seattle being the favorite. The Mariners have Japanese ownership and Japanese reliever Kazuhiro Sasaki, who won the AL Rookie of the Year in his first season after leaving Japan.
There is also a large Japanese population in Seattle -- an important factor to Suzuki, according to agent Tony Attanasio. Suzuki also has a history with the Mariners, having worked out with them during spring training in 1999 as part of an agreement with Orix.
Besides the $13.125 million just for the right to negotiate with Suzuki, it will take even more to sign him. Suzuki made about $5.5 million this season in Japan, and the hefty price tag for an untested player has scared off some teams.
"I don't know how to judge him because there haven't been any other Japanese hitters that have come here," said Boston GM Dan Duquette, who didn't plan to make a bid.
Cleveland bid for Suzuki, as a possible replacement for free agent Manny Ramirez.
GM John Hart has yet to respond to Ramirez's $200 million contract proposal, but said an offer would probably come before Friday. After that, Ramirez is free to sign with any team.
"There's nothing new today," Hart said. "We're at the same place we were."
In other news, White Sox manager Jerry Manuel made a plea to owner Jerry Reinsdorf to make a run at Alex Rodriguez, the top free agent on the market.
Rodriguez, 25, will likely command a salary in excess of $20 million a season -- about half of Chicago's 2000 payroll.
"I have no idea how far Jerry wants to go," Manuel said. "I don't get involved in those conversations. I just say, 'Oh, please get him. Please get him."'
Atlanta, Los Angeles, Colorado and the Mets are believed to be the front-runners if Rodriguez leaves Seattle, but A-Rod has said he would enjoy playing for Manuel.
Also, Colorado acquired left-hander Ron Villone from Cincinnati for two minor league pitchers to be named or cash. Villone went 10-10 with a 5.43 ERA this season.
"He had success this year in Coors Field," GM Dan O'Dowd said. "Obviously, he's still a younger guy. He's got a great changeup."
Brainerd Dispatch ©2013. All Rights Reserved.