Yankees Win Rights to Japan's Igawa

Wednesday, November 29th 2006, 6:33 am
By: News On 6

NEW YORK (AP) _ The New York Yankees got a chance to sign a Japanese pitcher on their second try this offseason, winning the rights Tuesday to Kei Igawa after losing out to the Boston Red Sox two weeks ago for Daisuke Matsuzaka.

New York's offer of $26,000,194 _ the last three digits matching his strikeout total this year _ was the highest bid among major league teams for Igawa, and it was accepted Tuesday by his Japanese team, the Hanshin Tigers.

``The Yankees are a team with a lot of tradition,'' Igawa said at a news conference in Osaka. ``They get a lot of media attention, like the Tigers do. I was surprised to hear the team bid that much for me, and I feel like today I've taken another step toward realizing my dream.''

Boston bid $51.1 million earlier this month to win the right to negotiate with Seibu Lions' Matsuzaka, the MVP of the World Baseball Classic and a possible No. 1 starter.

A 27-year-old left-hander, Igawa could compete for a spot at the back of New York's rotation next season behind Chien-Ming Wang, Mike Mussina and Randy Johnson. Carl Pavano, coming off 1 1/2 seasons of injuries, also would be in the rotation if healthy, and the Yankees have expressed possible interest in signing free agents Ted Lilly or Gil Meche.

New York has until midnight at the end of Dec. 28 to work out a contract with Igawa's agent, Arn Tellem _ who also represents Yankees left fielder Hideki Matsui. Igawa allowed a home run to the New York Mets' David Wright this month during an exhibition game between Japanese and major league All-Stars.

``We have been following Kei Igawa's very successful and accomplished career in Japan, and we are excited about the opportunity to begin the negotiating process with him,'' Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said in a statement.

The Yankees pay Hanshin only if they reach an agreement with Igawa.

``I am very pleased to have the rights to sign him for the Yankees,'' owner George Steinbrenner said in a statement issued by spokesman Howard Rubenstein.

The Yankees bid between $32 million and $33 million for Matsuzaka. The Red Sox have until midnight at the end of Dec. 14 to agree to a deal with Matsuzaka and his agent, Scott Boras.

``I'm looking forward to having a pitching duel with Matsuzaka,'' Igawa said. ``I know the fans there have very high expectations and I'll do my best to live up to them.''

After the bidding on Igawa closed Monday, the Tigers were informed of the amount of the high bid, but not which team made it. The Mets bid between $15 million and $16 million for Igawa, a baseball official said on condition of anonymity because the amounts of losing bids are not disclosed.

Igawa went 14-9 last season with a 2.97 ERA. He tied for the Central League lead in strikeouts _ he won strikeout titles in 2002 and 2004.

Igawa, the Central League's 2003 MVP, has an 86-60 record with a 3.15 ERA. He would have to play in Japan for three more seasons before he could become a free agent.

Also this month, the Tampa Bay Devil Rays won the rights to Japanese infielder Akinori Iwamura of the Yakult Swallows with a bid of about $4.5 million.