Nippon Professional Baseball released the list of 2016 free agents on Thursday afternoon, with outfielder Yoshio Itoi highlighting a group of six players.
Itoi, who spent the last four seasons with the Orix Buffaloes, is one of four domestic free agents, joining outfielder Daikan Yoh (Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters), relief pitcher Masahiko Morifuku (Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks) and pitcher Shun Yamaguchi (Yokohama BayStars).
Pitcher Takayuki Kishi and outfielder Takumi Kuriyama, both of the Seibu Lions, are eligible for international free agency. Kuriyama, 33, has said he’d like to finish his playing days with Seibu, where he’s spent the entirety of his 13-year career. Kishi, 31, the Lions’ ace for the past few seasons, has drawn interest from a number of NPB clubs. Kishi was 9-7 with a 2.49 ERA in 2016.
Itoi, 35, played in all 143 games for the Buffaloes this past season, sharing the stolen base title with 53 and hitting .306 with 17 home runs. Itoi is a .301 career hitter with 125 home runs and 525 RBIs in 10 seasons with the Buffaloes and Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters. The Hanshin Tigers are among the teams said to have a strong interest in the eight-time NPB All-Star. The Buffaloes also put a four-year offer on the table before the free-agency period began.
He was teammates with Yoh, 29, during his years in Sapporo, before being traded to Orix before the 2013 season. Now Yoh, a .273 hitter with 81 home runs and 385 RBIs during his 10 seasons with Nippon Ham, could be on his way out as well.
The Yomiuri Giants, no strangers to bolstering their ranks through free agency, reportedly have eyes on Yoh as well as pitchers Morifuku and Yamaguchi.
Morifuku, 30, made 50 appearances for the Hawks this year, recording 16 holds and a 2.00 ERA in 27 innings of work.
BayStars fans are hoping Yamaguchi decides to return to Yokohama the same way former star Daisuke Miura did after becoming a free agent in 2008. Yamaguchi pitched in 19 games during the regular season, going 11-5 with a 2.86 ERA. He struck out 121 in 138 2/3 innings.
Players can begin talking with teams on Friday.