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Free-agent right-hander Hideki Irabu is on the verge of agreeing to remain with the Hanshin Tigers for the 2004 season now that the club is considering offering him an improved package, baseball sources said Wednesday.

According to the sources, Irabu, who reportedly turned down the Tigers’ offer of a two-year, 600 million yen contract last month, will likely be presented with a two-year deal worth 700 million yen.

This past season, the 34-year-old hurler returned to Japanese baseball after seven years in the major leagues and went 13-8 with a 3.85 ERA, guiding the Osaka-based club to its first Central League pennant in 18 years.

Also, George Arias will re-sign with the Tigers after the 31-year-old American agreed to a new deal carrying a 300 million yen annual salary, a 132 million yen increase from last season, plus incentives.

The former San Diego Padres infielder, who also played with the Orix BlueWave in the Pacific League from 2000-01, batted .265 with 123 hits, 38 homers and 107 RBIs in 124 games this past season.

Tanishige stays level

NAGOYA (Kyodo) Chunichi Dragons catcher Motonobu Tanishige has agreed to an unchanged 250 million yen annual salary in addition to performance-based incentives for next season, officials of the Central League club said Wednesday.

Tanishige, who joined the Dragons on a 1 billion yen deal in December 2001 after spending 13 seasons with the Yokohama BayStars, will be entering his third year of a four-year contract in 2004,

The 32-year-old played in 112 games in 2003 and batted .264 with 97 hits, 18 homers and 69 RBIs while suffering various injuries, starting with a left hamstring strain in April.

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