Japanese pitcher Kuroda eyes career in the major leagues

Updated: November 6, 2007, 6:52 AM ET
Associated Press

TOKYO -- Japanese pitcher Hiroki Kuroda is making all the moves of a player headed to the major leagues.

Kuroda, a 32-year-old right-hander, filed for free agency Monday saying he was ready for a new challenge in his baseball career.

"There is no turning back now," Kuroda said. "I have to learn many things about the teams I'm interested in and I want to hold discussions with my agent about the negotiations that lie ahead."

With the success of pitchers Daisuke Matsuzaka and Hideki Okajima with the Boston Red Sox, interest in Japanese players this offseason is expected to be high.

Kuroda was 12-8 with a 3.56 ERA in 26 starts this season for the Hiroshima Carp. He is 103-89 with a 3.69 ERA in 11 seasons, all with Hiroshima.

Local media has reported Kuroda has no interest in returning to Hiroshima or playing with another Japanese team.

He led the Central League with 15 wins in 2005 and had a league-best 1.85 ERA in 2006.

Kuroda is permitted to talk to teams from Nov. 14. A total of 68 players from Japanese professional baseball are eligible for free agency this year.

Kuroda has a fastball in the mid-90s mph and excellent control. The Seattle Mariners and the Chicago Cubs are reportedly interested in the veteran right-hander.

Other potential candidates for a move to the majors are outfielder Kosuke Fukudome and reliever Hitoki Iwase of the Japan Series champion Chunichi Dragons. Both players are eligible for free agency.

Iwase, who recorded the final three outs of the perfect game in Game 5 of the Japan Series, is widely regarded as the leading closer in Japanese baseball. The 33-year-old left-hander had 40 or more saves in each of his last three seasons with the Dragons, including 43 this season. He has a 1.97 ERA over nine seasons in the pro leagues.

Fukudome, a key player on Japan's championship team at the World Baseball Classic in March 2006, had surgery on his right elbow in August and sat out the Japan Series, but has 192 homers and a .305 batting average over nine seasons with the Dragons.

Many have compared his defensive skills in the outfield to those of Seattle's Ichiro Suzuki.

Other players that are eligible for free agency and could draw interest from major league teams are third baseman Takahiro Arai of the Hiroshima Carp and outfielder Kazuhiro Wada of the Seibu Lions.

Arai is a 30-year-old, power-hitting infielder with a career 194 homers and .297 batting average, while Wada has 177 homers and a .317 average over 11 seasons with the Lions.

Chunichi Dragons right-handed reliever Masafumi Hirai has also indicated he is interested in giving the major leagues a try.

"I'm leaning toward free agency," said Hirai, who went 4-2 with a 3.29 ERA in 45 games. The 32-year-old made relief appearances in Game 3 and 4 of the Japan Series, pitching a total of 1 1-3 scoreless innings for the Dragons.


Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press

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