Indians Sign Japanese Closer

Tuesday, November 20th 2007, 1:44 pm
By: News On 6

CLEVELAND (AP) _ The Cleveland Indians became the latest team to tap into Japan's talented pitching pool, signing free agent closer Masahide Kobayashi to a two-year contract on Tuesday.

Financial terms were not immediately available.

The deal for Kobayashi, who has recorded at least 20 saves in each of the past seven seasons, includes a club option for 2010.

The 33-year-old Kobayashi spent the past nine seasons with Chiba Lotte. The right-hander is one of just three pitchers in Japanese baseball history to record over 200 career saves.

He will move into the back end of Cleveland's bullpen as a setup man for closer Joe Borowski, who led the AL with 45 saves last season. The Indians recently picked up Borowski's $4 million option for 2008.

``The signing of Masa Kobayashi marks the first contract ever signed by a Japanese professional baseball player into the Cleveland Indians franchise and, more importantly, accomplishes one of our primary offseason goals of adding depth to the back-end of our bullpen,'' Indians general manager Mark Shapiro said in a statement.

``Masa has pitched and succeeded at the highest level and on the biggest stage of the Japanese Professional Baseball League. He should be a valuable addition to our bullpen.''

The Indians, who took World Series champion Boston to Game 7 of the ALCS, are hoping they can follow the success the Red Sox had in signing Japanese pitchers. Starter Daisuke Matsuzaka and reliever Hideki Okajima were instrumental in helping the Red Sox win their second Series title in four years.

Last season, Kobayashi went 2-7 with a 3.61 ERA and 27 saves in 49 appearances. He was on the disabled list in September with a neck injury but finished the regular season on the active roster and pitched in the playoffs.

Kobayashi went 36-34 with a 2.79 ERA and 227 saves in 303 games for Chiba Lotte. In 2005, he led the Pacific League with 34 saves. He was a member of Japan's Olympic baseball team in 2004.