Kazuhiro Sasaki said Tuesday he has decided to leave the Seattle Mariners to stay home in Japan with his family.

News photoMariners relief ace Kazuhiro Sasaki (left), seen in this October 2001 file photo, announced that he was forfeiting the remaining year of his contract with Seattle in order to remain with his family
in Japan.

The right-handed closer told team officials he will not pitch for Seattle or any other major league team in 2004. He wants to forfeit the final year of his contract and remain at home in Japan.

“This was a very difficult decision to make,” Sasaki told reporters Tuesday in Tokyo. “I know this is a selfish decision but I know it’s the right one for me and my family.”

Sasaki has one year left on his two-year contract and could lose up to $9.5 million by not returning to the Mariners.

“It’s a personal situation,” agent Tony Attanasio said. “He wanted to stay home with his kids. Last year, he did not have his kids with him and his wife. He had to have that, and he left a lot of money on the table.”

How the move unfolds or how long it will take to complete is unknown. Mariners general manager Bill Bavasi said the team plans to accommodate Sasaki, but it’s uncharted territory.

“There’s just too many variables that I’m not certain about,” Bavasi said. “It’s going to involve the agent, the player, the club, MLB, you name it.”

Sasaki said he would like to pitch again in Japan but that he won’t talk to other teams until he becomes a free agent. Prior to joining the Mariners in 2000, he played 10 seasons with the Yokohama BayStars and was Japan’s all-time saves leader.

At Tuesday’s news conference, Sasaki mentioned the possibility of pitching for the national team at this summer’s Athens Olympics, where Japan is among the favorites for a gold medal.

Sasaki, who turns 36 on Feb. 22, is the Mariners’ career saves leader. He began to make his intentions clear over the last four to five days.

Sasaki is coming off a difficult season, where he went 1-2 with 10 saves in 14 opportunities and a 4.05 ERA in 2003. He missed much of 2003 with two trips to the disabled list.

In June he broke two ribs, reportedly in a fall while carrying suitcases up a flight of stairs at home. He eventually lost his job as the team’s closer to Shigetoshi Hasegawa.

“Last year was a tough season for me,” said Sasaki. “I couldn’t achieve the goals I set for myself.”

Sasaki said his biggest regret was not making it to the World Series.

Bavasi was asked if he will encourage Sasaki to reconsider.

“No. He appears to have thought things out,” Bavasi said. “From talking to Tony Attanasio, the player is pretty clear on what he wants to do.”

He said the team would try to accommodate Sasaki but cautioned that as of right now the contract remained in effect.

“He is reserved to us, just like everyone else on the 40-man roster,” Bavasi said. “As of today, he will report to camp with pitchers and catchers. On the other hand, we know his position and we will try to accommodate him.”

Sasaki was the highest-paid player on the Mariners last season at $8 million, which he was due to make again in 2004. He was the AL’s rookie of the year in 2000, when he had 37 saves.

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