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New York Yankees outfielder Hideki Matsui said Tuesday he has decided not to join Japan’s squad and play at the World Baseball Classic next March.

Matsui said he wants to sit out the inaugural 16-nation tournament to try and focus on helping his major league club become world champions.

“I have decided not to join up with the national squad. I know that it would be ideal to play for both club and country, and I understand that (Japan manager) Sadaharu Oh and the fans were hoping I would do that,” said Matsui in a statement.

“But the reason I decided to go to the United States was to try and become a world champion with the Yankees, and I fear that chasing two goals might get in the way of that dream,” he said.

Oh expressed disappointment after he received a letter late Monday from Matsui explaining his decision.

“He wrote saying how important it was to him to try and become a world champion at the Yankees next season,” said Oh. “It’s disappointing, but I can understand.”

Oh could fill the void left by Matsui with either Hanshin Tigers outfielder Norihiro Akahoshi or Chunichi Dragons outfielder Kosuke Fukudome after making enquiries as to whether they would be willing to play.

Later in the day, Yomiuri Giants catcher Shinnosuke Abe announced his withdrawal from the squad citing concerns over a shoulder problem and will be replaced by Yokohama Baystars catcher Ryoji Aikawa.

Ibata holds out

NAGOYA (Kyodo) Hirokazu Iabata wants the Chunichi Dragons to pay him what he is worth and failed to reach an agreement on a new deal with the Central League club on Tuesday.

Talks ended inconclusively after Ibata was offered a pay raise of 35 million yen and a contract worth 175 million yen in annual salary next season, considerably less than the infielder was expecting.

Ibata played 146 games for Chunichi this past season and posted a personal best .323 batting average with 63 RBIs and 22 stolen bases. He was also named a Golden Glove winner for the second year in a row.

Ibata is set to hold further negotiations with Chunichi on Jan. 7.

Kokubo signs

Yomiuri Giants infielder Hiroki Kokubo became the final player with the Central League club to complete the signing of a deal for the 2006 season when he put pen to paper on a one-year contract worth 300 million yen Tuesday.

Kokubo, who was handed a raise of 60 million yen, held down fourth place in the batting lineup from the middle of this past season and hit 34 home runs.

“I am very satisfied,” said the 34-year-old Kokubo, who qualified for free agency last year and will captain the team next season.

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