NISHINOMIYA, HYOGO PREF. – The Orix Buffaloes’ Sawamura Award-winning right-hander Chihiro Kaneko said he had exercised his domestic free-agency rights on Tuesday.
“I made my decision after giving it a lot of thought,” Kaneko said. “I want to explore all my options and I thought this would be the best way to do so.
“I want to focus (on the MLB All-Star series) right now because I don’t want to have a half-hearted outing.”
The 31-year-old right-hander went 16-5 with a 1.98 ERA this season, leading the Pacific League in wins and ERA.
Kaneko, who is part of the Japan national team playing the Major League Baseball All-Stars this week, has said he is considering asking Orix to post him to major league teams this offseason.
Kaneko could also move to another team in Japan, with the Japan Series champion Fukuoka Softbank Hawks and the Central League champion Yomiuri Giants showing interest.
“It was shocking and it is disappointing, but we’ll keep trying to convince him to play with us next season,” said Ryuzo Setoyama, head of Orix’s baseball operations.
Hanshin Tigers shortstop Takashi Toritani, meanwhile, declared overseas free agency with the aim of playing in the majors, the team said.
The 33-year-old Toritani has career numbers of a .285 batting average, 120 homers, 677 RBIs and 1,611 hits. He has played in 1,466 consecutive games, the third-longest streak in Japanese baseball history.
Also in the PL, 34-year-old third baseman Eiichi Koyano hit the free-agent market from the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters.
Koyano, who won the 2010 RBI title and batted .296 in 243 at-bats this season, can sign with teams overseas and is not attached to compensation.