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Free aagent pitcher Hiroyuki Kobayashi expects to sign with a major league team by mid-January, the former Lotte Marine said Friday.

Speaking at Chiba Marine Stadium where he was clearing out his locker, the 32-year-old Kobayashi said he should know where he will play next season shortly into the new year.

Kobayashi will start his offseason workouts next month in Okinawa with former teammate Saburo Omura.

“I think I’ll know by then,” he said. “I’m not in any hurry.

In his first season after being converted to a closer, Kobayashi was third in the Pacific League with 29 saves and a 2.21 ERA for the Japan Series champions.

Fujikawa OKs deal

Nishinomiya Hyogo Pref. (KYODO) Hanshin closer Kyuji Fujikawa put pen to paper on another ¥400 million deal with the Tigers on Friday, but admitted he would have to put up better numbers next year if he is to achieve his dream of moving to the major leagues.

Fujikawa went 3-4 with 28 saves and a 2.01 ERA in 58 games in 2010, signing for the same figure for 2011.

“These numbers are not going to impress anyone (in the major leagues)” said the 30-year-old Fujikawa, who allowed a career worst seven homers this past season. “I have to deliver better results.”

Fujikawa lost three games after August and his ERA was the highest it’s been since 2005, when he was called up full time for the Tigers.

But the team still rated his season primarily because he often had to take the mound before the ninth inning, with Hanshin lacking a dependable middle reliever to set up the flamethrowing Fujikawa.

Fujikawa pitched multiple innings on 13 occasions this year, three more times than he did last season. The extra burden clearly took a toll on Fujikawa down the stretch, and the Tigers fully appreciate his effort.

“There are certain things that a closer can’t control, like when and how much he pitches,” said Shoji Numazawa, head of Hanshin’s baseball operations. “We know the numbers don’t reflect everything. We value his contribution.”

Fujikawa said he will continue talks with the team about going stateside, but only after a productive season in 2011. Hanshin has said it has no plans to post Fujikawa.

“We’ve decided that we won’t post him,” said Numazawa. “We won’t have any detailed discussions during the season.”

Yau named coach

Nishinomiya Hyogo Pref. KYODO Former major leaguer Keiichi Yabu became the pitching coach for the Hanshin Tigers’ farmhand, the Central League team announced Friday.

“I drew the line on my career and decided to sign,” the 42-year-old Yabu said. “It feels good to be back with the Tigers after seven years.”

Yabu had been released by Tohoku Rakuten after signing with the Eagles midway through the season. He made a combined 100 appearances for the Oakland Athletics and the San Francisco Giants, posting a 7-6 record with one save.

Yabu spent 11 seasons with Hanshin from 1994. He was 84-106 with the Tigers.

Buffs add pair

OSAKA (Kyodo) The Orix Buffaloes said Friday they have acquired former Detroit Tigers right-hander Alfredo Figaro and former New York Mets third baseman Mike Hessman.

The 26-year-old Figaro owns a 2-4 career record in the major leagues with a 6.54 ERA in 13 games, four of them starts, in 2009-10 with the Tigers.

The 32-year-old Hessman is a career .188 hitter with 14 home runs and 33 RBIs in 109 games in five major league seasons with the Atlanta Braves (2003-04), Tigers (2007-08) and Mets (2010).

Eagles sign Jimenez

SENDAI (Kyodo) The Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles on Friday announced the acquisition of former major league right-hander Kelvin Jimenez.

The 30-year-old from the Dominican Republic had a 14-5 record with a 3.32 ERA in 27 games for the Doosan Bears in South Korea this past season and has agreed to a one-year, ¥40 million contract with Rakuten.

Jimenez made a total of 49 relief appearances in the majors in 2007-08, going 3-0 with a 6.82 ERA for the St. Louis Cardinals.

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