OSAKA — Amid widespread speculation he was on the verge of signing a deal with the New York Mets, slugger Norihiro Nakamura announced Saturday he has instead opted to play for the Kintetsu Buffaloes for a 12th season.

News photoFree agent slugger Norihiro Nakamura, after flirting with the New York Mets and
Hanshin Tigers, decided to remain with Kintetsu Buffaloes on Saturday.

Nakamura, who met with Kintetsu officials Thursday, chose the Pacific League club over the Hanshin Tigers and the Mets in an apparent last-minute swing from an itch to jump to the major leagues.

“I’m glad to hear this news. Our patience has paid off after a long wait,” Kintetsu manager Masataka Nashida said. “At times I got nervous in the process, feeling that he was leaning toward playing in the majors.”

After Nakamura filed for free agency last month, Kintetsu and Hanshin both offered him six-year deals worth more than 3 billion yen in a bid to obtain the services of the 29-year-old free agent.

Nakamura notified Hanshin of his decision Friday night. Late last month, he turned down a Yomiuri Giants offer reportedly worth 3 billion yen over the next four years.

Kintetsu made its offer during the first round of talks held Nov. 13, when free agents became eligible to discuss a deal, and had since taken a wait-and-see approach until a last-minute drive.

Nakamura’s decision came as a surprise to many as reports in the United States said he had all but landed a deal with the Mets, who are looking for a replacement after the departure of free-agent third baseman Edgardo Alfonzo.

The official Major League Baseball Web site said Friday that Nakamura “is believed to have agreed to terms on a two-year deal worth $7 million (844 million yen) with an option for a third year at $6 million.”

New York dailies, including the New York Daily News, the New York Post and the Newsday, have run similar stories on a possible, imminent deal between both sides.

During Major League Baseball’s winter meetings earlier this month, the Mets offered him a contract following his meeting with officials of the major-league club at Shea Stadium during a weeklong visit to the U.S. with his family and agent.

In an interview with Fuji Television Network early Saturday, Nakamura said he has “finally cleared my mind and picked just one team.” He said the choice was made “just before the dateline becomes new.

“I have my own style and pride as a baseball player and I found the answer when I thought which club can make me express myself the best way,” Nakamura said in the interview.

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