• Kyodo

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Star center fielder Yuki Yanagita signed a three-year deal with the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks on Saturday.

The contract, reportedly worth ¥400 million ($3.53 million) a year with performance-based incentives, will keep the 29-year-old slugger in Fukuoka for two years after he is eligible to file for domestic free agency next autumn.

“It’s an amazing amount of money. I have to drive the team. I want to be the best player in Japan,” Yanagita said at Yafuoku Dome.

Although he has suffered from late-season injuries in the past two years, it is hard to argue that any player in either the Pacific League or Central League has been more valuable over the past four seasons. Yanagita was runner-up in the Pacific League MVP voting in 2014 and again this season, when he batted .310 with 31 home runs, 95 runs and 99 RBIs.

Yanagita, normally a middle-of-the-order guy for the Hawks, returned from a rib muscle injury to bat cleanup in the postseason and help propel the Hawks to their third Japan Series championship in four years.

While the speedy, hard-hitting outfielder has been on the radar of major league scouts for years, the Hawks have never used the posting system. Yanagita will not be eligible to go to MLB as a free agent until the winter of 2020.

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