OSAKA — Norihiro Nakamura signed a free-agent deal with the Osaka Kintetsu Buffaloes on Wednesday, becoming the highest-paid Japanese baseball player with an estimated annual salary of 500 million yen for 2003 plus incentives.

News photoKintetsu slugger Norihiro Nakamura, who spurned the major leagues to remain with the Buffaloes, begins offseason training with a session in Tsuchiyama, Shiga Prefecture.

Kintetsu and Nakamura, who opted to remain with Kintetsu last month after a last-minute about-face from his decision to join the New York Mets, are believed to have reached a basic agreement on a six-year deal worth more than 3 billion yen.

But Kintetsu executive Keisuke Ashitaka said optional clauses beyond the 2003 season have yet to be worked out, adding his club will take into consideration Nakamura’s eligibility to refile for free agency after four more seasons.

“The basic understanding between us remains the same — it’s a six-year deal. But it can be viewed as a four-year deal from a different angle,” Ashitaka said without elaborating.

For 2003, the 29-year-old infielder will occupy the top spot on the salary list among Japanese players in the absence of Hideki Matsui, who is bound for the New York Yankees after earning 610 million yen last year from the Yomiuri Giants.

Yomiuri infielder Kazuhiro Kiyohara is second with 450 million yen and Seibu Lions shortstop Kazuo Matsui third with 350 million yen. Michihiro Ogasawara of the Nippon Ham Fighters and Yomiuri’s Kimiyasu Kudo follow with 300 million yen each.

“I want to think about the team over myself and will aim to become the Japan Series champion. I’ll start training tomorrow,” Nakamura said when asked about his goal.

According to Ashitaka, Nakamura is keen to break the Japanese single-season home run record of 55, shared by Sadaharu Oh, Tuffy Rhodes and Alex Cabrera. He said Kintetsu is considering giving him a special bonus if he sets a new record.

Saito to hold talks

Free-agent pitcher Takashi Saito said Wednesday he will hold negotiations with the Texas Rangers and Boston Red Sox later this week.

Talks are set for Thursday with Texas and Friday with Boston, while re-signing with the Yokohama BayStars remains an option for Saito, who played for the Central League team for 11 seasons.

“I’m going to choose one from these three teams. I’ll see what kind of offer they make, and would have a headache if those are pretty much the same,” Saito said.

Yokohama has offered the 32-year-old right-hander a three-year deal worth 750 million yen.

Dragons eye Millar

NAGOYA (Kyodo) The Chunichi Dragons are negotiating with Florida Marlins outfielder Kevin Millar, officials of the Central League club said Wednesday.

Millar batted .306 with 16 homers and 57 RBIs in 126 games for the Marlins last season.

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