The Yomiuri Giants on Friday said the team is not interested in acquiring right-handed closer Kazuhiro Sasaki, who cleared waivers Thursday and was released by the Seattle Mariners.
The Yokohama BayStars and the Nippon Ham Fighters, however, have expressed interest in holding talks with Sasaki, with Yokohama president Susumu Minegishi taking the lead in revealing his intentions to sign the 35-year-old.
“I think Yokohama is the only place for him. I can’t imagine Sasaki wearing any uniform except for Yokohama’s,” Minegishi said, pointing to the 10 years from 1990 Sasaki spent with the Central League club before declaring himself a free agent.
Minegishi said the club is willing to make a generous offer for a multiyear deal, considering the estimated 500 million yen Sasaki made in his last year with Yokohama in 1999 before moving to the majors.
Early on Friday, the BayStars filed documents with the commissioner’s office confirming interest in Sasaki, who completed paperwork to terminate his contract with the Mariners this week.
Sasaki walked away from a guaranteed $8.5 million (about 900 million yen) so he could spend more time with his family in Japan.
The Fighters also filed documents with the commissioner’s office on Friday and said they would like to meet with Sasaki to discuss a possible deal after hearing about the state of his injuries.
After joining the Mariners on a free-agent deal in 2000, the right-hander was named the American League Rookie of the Year, but suffered a spate of injuries last season and finished with just 10 saves and a 4.05 ERA in 35 games.
Springing to action
Spring training for pro baseball’s 12 teams kicks off Sunday, with only the Yomiuri Giants traveling overseas to open camp in Guam before moving to Miyazaki later in February, baseball sources said Friday.
It is the first time in 12 years that Yomiuri’s main pitchers and hitters will take part in the training camp, which will be held until Feb. 7 in Guam before moving to Miyazaki from Feb. 10.
The Japan Series champion Fukuoka Daiei Hawks have moved their spring training base from Kochi Prefecture to the city of Miyazaki while the Seibu Lions, led by newly appointed manager Tsutomu Ito, will set up camp in Nango, Miyazaki Prefecture.
Hanshin Tigers manager Akinobu Okada, who takes over for Senichi Hoshino, will guide his team, featuring highly-touted rookie infielder Takashi Toritani of Waseda University, in a camp in Ginoza, Okinawa until Feb. 18 and Kochi’s Aki from Feb. 20.
Elsewhere, new Chunichi Dragons manager Hiromitsu Ochiai will kick off the first day of training with an intrasquad game in Okinawa’s Chatan.
The Yakult Swallows, Hiroshima Carp, Yokohama BayStars and Nippon Ham Fighters — whom Tsuyoshi Shinjo has joined after returning from the major leagues — will get spring training under way in Okinawa.
Bobby Valentine, who has returned to the helm of the Chiba Lotte Marines after a nine-year absence, will take his team to Kagoshima, the Osaka Kintetsu Buffaloes will train in Miyazaki’s Hyoga, and Orix BlueWave manager Haruki Ihara will hold practices in Kobe before traveling to Miyakojima in Okinawa.
The Japanese baseball players’ association on Friday selected Hanshin Tigers left-hander Kei Igawa as the 2003 Most Valuable Player in the Central League while top honors in the Pacific League went to Fukuoka Daiei Hawks catcher Kenji Jojima.
Igawa, who the CL also named last season’s MVP, reached an agreement the same day on a 200 million yen annual salary plus up to 20 million yen in performance bonuses.
Igawa became the second Hanshin player after Makoto Imaoka to strike a deal for 200 million yen thanks to agent Hironari Hashioka, who negotiated the contract after several meetings with the CL club.
“Now I can fully focus on spring training. My job now is to produce good results,” said the 24-year-old Igawa.
The players’ association also selected the “Best Nine” team in the CL, which includes catcher Akihiro Yano and second baseman Imaoka for a total of six players from Hanshin.
In the PL, right-hander Kazumi Saito, who posted 20 wins and claimed the Sawamura Award, was among five Daiei players along with first baseman Nobuhiko Matsunaka selected to the special team.
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