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Agent: Messenger hoping to return to Tigers in 2017

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Staff Writer

Pitcher Randy Messenger is interested in working out a deal to remain with the Hanshin Tigers in 2017, his agent Matt Sosnick told The Japan Times on Wednesday.

Reports saying the team was planning to offer Messenger an extension for next year surfaced on Tuesday. Sosnick said that while actually seeing this being reported in the media was a surprise, the two sides have been in contact over the issue for some time.

“We’d talked about it in theory, but there were never any numbers exchanged,” Sosnick said over the phone. “I was less surprised about it conceptually than I was about actually seeing it in print.”

The agent, part of Sosnick Cobbe & Karon, said there has been interest in Messenger from MLB teams. Though he added there would be no conversations with other clubs as long as the Tigers were serious about retaining the 34-year-old.

“It is Randy’s desire, given the options he has, and he will certainly have some options in the States after this year, to go back to Hanshin,” Sosnick said. “I don’t think he’d have interest in ever playing for somebody else in Japan outside of Hanshin. If the team is serious in wanting to try to work something out, having exclusive negotiating rights, certainly now is the time.”

Messenger is 10-8 with a 3.26 ERA in 151⅔ innings this season, leading the club in both wins and innings pitched. Messenger is generally among the top strikeout pitchers in NPB and the right-hander led the Central League with 144 through Tuesday’s games.

Messenger and the club were briefly at odds last season over miscommunication surrounding an assignment to the ni-gun team. Sosnick says the relationship between Messenger and the club is very good at the moment and that the pitcher enjoys playing under first-year manager Tomoaki Kanemoto, his former Tigers teammate.

“He loves his manager,” Sosnik said.

Messenger is in his seventh season in NPB, all with the Tigers. He’s 71-62 with a 3.08 ERA and 1,083 strikeouts in Japan. He reached 1,000 NPB strikeouts earlier this season, becoming the first North American, and fourth foreign player, to achieve the milestone.

Messenger has reached double-digit wins five times in Japan. He’s also had at least 160 strikeouts in four seasons, standing 16 away from adding a fifth this year. The Reno, Nevada, native has been a workhorse for the Tigers, throwing at least 190 innings from 2012-2015, including 208⅓ in 2014.

“I’ve had players on, if not every team, just about every team in Japan over the years,” Sosnick said. “In my opinion I think that Randy Messenger is the best foreign pitcher to ever pitch in Japan. I don’t think there’s anything that he and his family would appreciate more than being able to start and finish his Japanese career with the Tigers.

“He takes great pride in every milestone, and every record he sets for a foreigner. Everything he does personally, I think he also takes pride in that it also reflects positively on Hanshin. I think that as long as they have interest in him playing for the Tigers, I think he’ll stay with the Tigers, as long as they want him to keep playing for them.

“He takes a lot of pride in being part of the club.”