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The Yakult Swallows will accept the highest bid from a major league club for the right to negotiate with southpaw Kazuhisa Ishii, who is trying his hand in the majors, Yakult President Yoshikazu Tagiku said Tuesday.

At least five teams, including the Los Angeles Dodgers, Seattle Mariners and Texas Rangers, are expected to have made bids for Ishii in a closed-door auction, and the highest bidder was notified to the Japanese baseball commissioner’s office earlier Tuesday.

“We held a board of directors meeting over the phone and agreed on working toward accepting (the winning bid),” Tagiku said after receiving word from the commissioner’s office.

Yakult has four days to officially decide whether or not the bid is acceptable, and if it accepts, the winning team has 30 days to work out a contract through direct negotiations with the 28-year-old.

Baseball sources estimate the winning bid at approximately $10 million, although any details of the auction process — including the participating clubs and their bid amounts — were not formally disclosed by major league officials.

The commissioner’s office of Major League Baseball did not announce the highest bidder in an apparent move to keep Yakult from making a biased decision after Ishii earlier revealed his wish to play for a West Coast club.

Ishii led the Central League in strikeouts in 1998 and 2000.

Hanshin or Cardinals

OSAKA — Free-agent outfielder So Taguchi, who has drawn interest from four major league clubs, has decided to join either the Hanshin Tigers or the St. Louis Cardinals.

In an e-mail sent from the United States to Japanese journalists on Monday, Taguchi revealed that he told Hanshin manager Senichi Hoshino of his plan over the phone on Sunday. Taguchi is scheduled to meet Hoshino upon his return to Japan on Wednesday.

The New York Yankees, Arizona Diamondbacks and Texas Rangers have also shown interest in the 32-year-old, who last week revealed he had received formal offers from two major league teams.

‘Wave ink Sheldon

KOBE (Kyodo) The Orix BlueWave on Tuesday announced the acquisition of Texas Rangers infielder Scott Sheldon for a total of $500,000 in signing bonus and annual salary plus performance-based incentives of up to $300,000.

Sheldon, 33, batted .235 with eight home runs and 33 RBIs in 141 games in his major league career.

Saito gets raise

YOKOHAMA (Kyodo) Yokohama closer Takashi Saito on Tuesday re-signed with the BayStars for a 65 million yen raise and a 180 million yen annual salary, rounding off talks on new contracts between the Central League club and its players.

Saito, who posted 27 saves with a 7-1 record in 50 games in 2001, reached an agreement with the BayStars on a one-year deal in his third round of negotiations.

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