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Itoi leaving Buffaloes for Tigers

Kyodo

The Hanshin Tigers said Monday they have reached agreement on a contract with free agent outfielder Yoshio Itoi, who earlier in the day informed the Orix Buffaloes of his intention to join the Central League club.

Itoi, 35, who played for Orix for four seasons before declaring himself a free agent earlier this month, said in a statement released by Hanshin, “I thought I needed a change to grow as a baseball player. I was most impressed by manager (Tomoaki) Kanemoto’s earnestness.”

The Tigers were at the negotiation table with Itoi on Nov. 11, four days after he said he would exercise his right to domestic free agency, with Kanemoto himself attending the meeting in a bid to chase Itoi hard to bolster his team’s pennant run next season.

Itoi joined the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters in 2004 but was moved to Orix in 2013 in a five-player trade. He was the Pacific League batting champion in 2014 and notched up 53 stolen bases this past season for a share of the title in the category.

Hiroyuki Nagamura, head of Orix’s baseball operations, said after seeing the athletic veteran turn down his huge contract offer to stay at the Buffaloes, “This is a right he earned himself. I look forward to his success at his new ground.”

Itoi, a member of the Japanese team that lost to Puerto Rico in the 2013 World Baseball Classic semifinals, has batted .301 with 1,251 hits, 125 home runs and 525 RBIs and has 245 stolen bases in 1,166 games in Nippon Professional Baseball.