/

Dragons’ Fukudome files for free agency

Kyodo

Chunichi Dragons outfielder Kosuke Fukudome said Monday he has decided to become a free agent.

Not only major league clubs — the Chicago Cubs are mooted as a likely destination — but also Japanese teams such as the Yomiuri Giants and the Hanshin Tigers are expected to compete for Fukudome’s services while he is unlikely to stay with Chunichi, according to baseball sources. Negotiations open Wednesday.

“I’ve wanted to know how I am perceived by others. I haven’t decided to leave the team or go overseas,” Fukudome said at a press conference in Nagoya.

The 30-year-old Fukudome is a career .305 hitter with 192 homers and 647 RBIs in nine seasons with Chunichi.

He won Central League batting titles with a .343 average in 2002 and a .351 average in 2006 and was named the league MVP last year.

“One of the reasons my decision came this late is my feelings about my Dragons teammates and fans after nine years,” Fukudome said. “I would like to listen to all teams hoping to strike a deal with me. No teams have stood out yet.”

On Nov. 5, Chunichi offered Fukudome the options of a one-year contract for an unchanged ¥85 million and a four-year, ¥1.7 billion deal, but he was undecided.

Fukudome had endoscopic surgery to remove bone fragments from his right elbow in the United States in August and was limited to just 81 games, missing Chunichi’s Japan Series triumph.

He played a key role in helping Japan win the inaugural World Baseball Classic last year in the United States.

Iwase is staying

Chunichi Dragons closer Hitoki Iwase is staying with the newly crowned Asia Series champions, while Yakult Swallows left-hander Kazuhisa Ishii filed for free agency before the deadline Monday.

“I’ve wanted to continue my playing career in the place where I grew up,” Iwase told reporters in Nagoya. “I made up my mind soon after I first spoke with the front office.”