SAPPORO – Kensuke Tanaka, an offensive and defensive spark plug for the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters for the past seven seasons, announced Tuesday he would file for free agency and pursue a career in the major leagues.
The left-handed-hitting second baseman burst on to the scene in 2006, when the Fighters won their first Japan Series title in Sapporo and has a career batting average of .286 with 161 stolen bases.
The 31-year-old, who has five Golden Gloves, made his home at Sapporo Dome, one of Japan’s best pitcher’s parks. He has scored 524 runs with 325 RBIs in 1,079 games.
“Since about four years ago, I became interested in the majors,” Tanaka said. “That feeling got stronger little by little to the point where I wanted to take on the challenge, and today I have filed (for free agency). I have to think that playing in a different environment can add to my career in baseball.
“I don’t particularly hit home runs, and I don’t have any power. I will be happy if people come to feel that a player like that can compete anywhere in the world.”
“If there is a team willing to offer me a chance, then I’ll be happy to play in whatever role they give me.”
Although he missed just one game between 2007 and 2010, Tanaka missed all but 49 games in the 2011 season with a broken ankle, while a ruptured ligament in his left elbow ended his 2012 season on Aug. 29.
“I had decided to go this route regardless of how this season went,” he said. “Being injured didn’t shake that resolve at all.”
Rangers eye Fujikawa: report
The Texas Rangers are among several major league teams who have shown interest in Hanshin Tigers closer Kyuji Fujikawa, who will use his status as an unrestricted free agent to try to move overseas, the Dallas Morning News reported on its online edition on Monday.
“His top pitches are the fastball and the split-finger fastball. He has more velocity than right-hander Koji Uehara, another former NPB reliever who spent the last 1 1/2 seasons with the Rangers,” it said.
The report said Fujikawa, who posted 24 saves with a 1.32 ERA in 47 2/3 innings this season with Hanshin, has also been scouted by the Arizona Diamondbacks, Los Angeles Angels and Los Angeles Dodgers.
The 32-year-old has a career record of 42-25 with 220 saves and a 1.77 ERA. He has struck out 914 batters in 692 1/3 innings.
The Orix Buffaloes are among three suitors hopeful of negotiating a contract with infielder Tsuyoshi Nishioka, who was released from the Minnesota Twins at the end of the season, a source familiar with situation told Kyodo News on Tuesday.
The 28-year-old Nishioka, who walked away from the third year of his contract after two disappointing seasons with the Twins, has been scouted by Japanese clubs, including his former team, the Chiba Lotte Marines, who met with him for talks on Monday.
The Hanshin Tigers have also requested a meeting with Nishioka and the teams are expecting to formally begin talks with Nishioka in the coming days.
Orix is in the market for middle infielders to take the place of shortstop Keiji Obiki, who was sidelined for about a month near the end of the season with lower back pain, and 34-year-old second baseman Mitsutaka Goto, who has struggled with health issues.
Neither player has participated in the team’s autumn camp, and the Buffaloes are hoping to bring in reinforcement.
Nishioka, who spent his first eight pro seasons with the Marines before his move to the majors, has a career .293 batting average with 55 home runs and 300 RBIs in Japan.
He broke his leg in his rookie season in the majors and was limited to just 233 at-bats in 71 career games with the American League club. Nishioka was due $3.25 million from the Twins in 2013 but asked to be released to return to Japan.