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Bobby Valentine, considered a likely replacement for outgoing Chiba Lotte Marines manager Koji Yamamoto for the Lotte Marines, will arrive in Japan on Saturday with the aim of landing a contract with the Pacific League club.

Lotte deputy owner Akio Shigemitsu said he would like to start negotiations on a contract with Valentine and possibly reach an agreement as early as Sunday.

“He is coming here because he is interested in signing a contract,” said Shigemitsu, adding that he hoped to seal a deal with Valentine of three to five years.

Valentine, 53, who guided the Marines to second place in the PL in 1995, completes his contract with the New York Mets at the end of October.

He led the Mets to the World Series in 2000 but was fired after the team came in last place in the National League East last year.

Valentine’s name has also appeared on a list of candidates to manage the Boston Red Sox.

Irabu wants freedom

NISHINOMIYA, Hyogo Pref. (Kyodo) Hanshin Tigers right-hander Hideki Irabu has decided to declare free agency, officials of the Central League club said Friday.

Irabu became eligible this season for free agency after spending six years in the major leagues playing for the New York Yankees, Montreal Expos and Texas Rangers.

“I’ve decided to exercise my right to free agency,” Irabu said before leaving the Hanshin Tigers front office at Koshien Stadium in Nishinomiya, Hyogo Prefecture.

Baseball sources said Irabu, who sealed a one-year deal with the Tigers for an estimated $2 million (220 million yen) including a signing bonus, annual salary and performance incentives, has been offered a two-year contract for 400 million yen plus performance-based incentives for a total of 500 million yen.

Hanshin intends to continue talks with Irabu to convince him to return next season but it is unclear whether the 34-year-old will remain with the club.

“We haven’t heard from Irabu about exactly how much money he will want to stay but I think it will probably be more than we are willing to offer,” said team president Katsuyoshi Nozaki.

Irabu, who posted a 13-8 record with a 3.85 ERA this season, contributed to leading the Tigers to their first Central League championship in 18 years.

Irabu was the losing pitcher in Game 2 and Game 6 of the recently concluded Japan Series in which the Tigers fell 4-3 in the best-of-seven series.

Second thoughts

FUKUOKA (Kyodo) Fukuoka Daiei Hawks owner Tadashi Nakauchi said Friday he wants to keep hold of second baseman Tadahito Iguchi, who has set his sights on entering the major leagues via the so-called posting system for the 2004 season.

Iguchi, who helped Daiei win the Pacific League championship and the recently concluded Japan Series, told the club’s acting owner Takeshi Kotsuka of his wish in a meeting at a Fukuoka hotel Thursday and hopes to get the green light as early as possible.

But Nakauchi appears reluctant to let Iguchi, who has been a driving force behind the club’s success this year, try his luck overseas.

“I want him to stay. He batted in (more than) 100 runs this season and has played a pivotal role in helping Daiei win the championship,” Nakauchi told reporters. “I want him to continue playing a leading role for the team.”

Daiei promised it would support Iguchi if he wished to move to the major leagues when the 28-year-old renewed his contract after his rookie season in 1997.

A seven-year veteran, Iguchi batted .340 this season with 27 home runs and 109 RBIs and led the PL in stolen bases.

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