Submarine right-hander Shunsuke Watanabe said Monday he will try to earn a major league job for next season.
The 37-year-old stalwart for the Pacific League’s Lotte Marines played for Japan in the 2006 and 2009 World Baseball Classics. Although he has the right to file for free agency, the club will grant him his release so he can pursue offers from overseas.
Watanabe has thrived on being unique. His underhand fastball maxes out around 129 kph but rises as it approaches the plate. He relies on pin-point accuracy and changing speeds with an 89-kph curveball that will knuckle in windy conditions.
“Now is the time to try this,” he told a press conference at QVC Marine Field. “I thought this was my last chance.
“While there is just a slight chance of making it to the major leagues, I think I can receive an invitation to camp even if it’s on a minor league contract.”
Watanabe’s best season came in 2005, when he went 15-4 with a 2.17 ERA. He hasn’t had a winning record since going 13-8 in 2009. Watanabe was 0-4 with a 4.62 ERA in six games this season, and hasn’t been a regular member of the Marines’ rotation since 2011.
“I’ve seen how Japanese pitchers have succeeded over there by changing speeds, and thought I wanted to try that out for myself,” he said.
Dragons drop Ibata
The Chunichi Dragons revealed Monday that they will not offer a new contract to star shortstop Hirokazu Ibata.
Ibata, 38, an offensive and defensive dynamo during the Dragons’ successful stretch under former manager Hiromitsu Ochiai from 2004 to 2011 and one of two Japanese players named to the all-tournament team for this year’s World Baseball Classic.
Kazuo Nishiyama, the franchise’s representative to Nippon Professional Baseball, revealed that the club wanted to offer the 38-year-old a contract substantially lower than the ¥190 million he earned this season, but Ibata was unyielding.
Reserved players making ¥100 million or more can opt for free agency if they are offered a 40 percent pay cut.
“We kept negotiating, but his will was unbending,” Nishiyama said. “It is regrettable, but we won’t be offering him a contract.”
Ibata has won five Central League Best IX Awards and seven Golden Glove Awards. He batted .236 in an injury-plagued season and had surgery on his right leg and right hand in October.
In a statement released by the team, Ibata said his only focus now is getting fit.
“I have not considered the future at all,” he said. “Regardless of what the future brings, it is essential to heal following my surgeries. I am just focusing on rehab without thinking of anything else.”
Ibata was named as a utility role player to Japan’s WBC squad, but came through numerous times in the clutch and was honored as the event’s best designated hitter.
Giants cut former stars
Veteran outfielder Yoshitomo Tani has been left out of the Yomiuri Giants’ plans for next season, the Central League champions announced Monday.
On Sunday night, informed sources said that infielder Michihiro Ogasawara will also be sent on his way.
Tani began his career with the Orix BlueWave. The 40-year-old joined the Giants in a trade prior to the 2007 season, when he revived his flagging career, batting .318 in 141 games. Tani is married to former Olympic and world champion judo star Ryoko Tani.
He entered the 2013 season needing 86 hits to reach Japan’s prestigious 2,000-hit milestone, but had just seven hits in 13 games.
“I am still fit and I can run,” Tani said. “I love baseball, so I want to keep playing until I’ve got nothing left to give.”
Ogasawara, a slugging corner infielder, joined Yomiuri as a free agent soon after being named the Pacific League’s MVP in 2006. He won the Central League’s top honor in 2007, when the Giants won their first CL pennant in five seasons. He has a career average of .311 with 2,080 hits and 377 home runs.
Plagued by injuries the past three seasons, the 40-year-old took part in just 22 games this year, batting .250 with one homer and eight RBIs.
Ogasawara was not on the Giants’ 40-man roster for the recently completed Japan Series. Tani was, but went to the plate jut once and drew a walk in his only action.