Sasaki may pitch in Japan

Updated: January 20, 2004, 1:54 PM ET
Associated Press

SEATTLE -- Seattle Mariners closer Kazuhiro Sasaki told the team Monday he will not pitch for Seattle in 2004, deciding to forfeit the final year of his contract and remain with his family in Japan.


The Mariners' career saves leader, who turns 36 on Feb. 22, would walk away from up to $9.5 million by not playing for Seattle next season.

"It's a personal situation," agent Tony Attanasio said. "He wanted to stay home with his kids. Last year, he did not have his kids with him and his wife. He had to have that, and he left a lot of money on the table."

Attanasio said Sasaki may pitch in Japan next season but "he will not pitch again in the United States."

Mariners general manager Bill Bavasi said Sasaki's intentions became clear in the last four to five days. He refused to say what the next step will be.

"I'm not going to get into it," Bavasi said. "There's just too many variables that I'm not certain about. It's going to involve the agent, the player, the club, MLB, you name it."

He said the team would try to "accommodate" the request but cautioned that as of right now the contract remained in effect.

"He is reserved to us, just like everyone else on the 40-man roster," Bavasi said. "As of today, he will report to camp with pitchers and catchers. On the other hand, we know his position and we will try to accommodate him."

Sasaki said he'd like to pitch again in Japan, but he won't talk to other teams until he becomes a free agent. Before joining the Mariners in 2000, he played 10 seasons with the Yokohama BayStars and was Japan's all-time saves leader when he came to the United States.

Sasaki said pitching for the Japanese national team at this summer's Athens Olympics, where Japan is among the favorites for a gold medal.

Sasaki, who turns 36 on Feb. 22, is the Mariners' career saves leader. But he's coming off a difficult season, during which he went 1-2 with 10 saves in 14 opportunities and a 4.05 ERA in 2003, missing much of the season with two trips to the disabled list.

In June he broke two ribs, reportedly in a fall while carrying his suitcases up a flight of stairs at home. Relegated to the disabled list, he lost his job as the team's closer to Shigetoshi Hasegawa.

"Last year was a tough season for me," Sasaki said. "I couldn't achieve the goals I set for myself."

The Mariners signed Eddie Guardado, who saved 41 games for the Minnesota Twins last year, in the offseason.

Sasaki said his biggest regret was not making it to the World Series.

Bavasi was asked if he will encourage Sasaki to reconsider.

"No. He appears to have thought things out," Bavasi said. "From talking to Tony Attanasio, the player is pretty clear on what he wants to do."

Sasaki was the highest-paid player on the Mariners last season at $8 million, which he was due to make again in 2004. He was the AL's rookie of the year in 2000, when he had 37 saves.

The team holds an option for 2005.

Sasaki joined the Mariners after 10 seasons with Yokohama in Japan. He was named to the AL All-Star team in 2001, when he set a Mariners record with 45 saves.

His 129 saves over the last four seasons are a team record.

With Sasaki sidelined last year, Hasegawa became the star of Seattle's bullpen. He converted 16 of 17 save opportunities and finished with a 1.48 ERA that was a team record for a reliever.

When Hasegawa signed a two-year, $6.3 million contract last month, manager Bob Melvin said he was committed to making Sasaki the closer again and using Hasegawa wherever he was needed.

In another move, the Mariners agreed to terms with right-hander Joel Pineiro, signing one of the team's workhorses to a three-year contract worth $14.5 million.

The 25-year-old Pineiro set career highs with 211 2-3 innings, 151 strikeouts, 32 starts and 16 wins in 2003. He went 16-11 with a 3.78 ERA, throwing two shutouts.

The deal includes a $1.5 million signing bonus. Pineiro will earn $2.5 million next season. In three major league seasons, Pineiro is 37-20 with a 3.38 ERA.

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press