Pitcher gives up guaranteed $8.5M

Updated: January 28, 2004, 3:32 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

SEATTLE -- Kazuhiro Sasaki choked back tears when he stopped by the Seattle Mariners clubhouse and said goodbye to Edgar Martinez, Bret Boone and other former teammates.

Kazuhiro Sasaki

Sasaki signed papers Tuesday to terminate his contract, leaving behind a guaranteed $8.5 million next season because he wants to remain in Japan with his wife and two young children.

"I'm not really sure what people are thinking, but most importantly my children are very happy," Sasaki said through an interpreter.

The Mariners placed their former closer on waivers, with other teams notified that Sasaki will not pitch if he's claimed. Seattle plans to give Sasaki his unconditional release when he clears waivers later this week.

He plans to pitch in Japan next season.

"Nothing has been decided," Sasaki said. "I'm going to go back to Japan and see what happens. I want to continue pitching."

The move opened a spot on Seattle's 40-man roster and left general manager Bill Bavasi with a big wad of spending money.

Fans are wondering if the Mariners will pursue a big name from the dwindling crop of free agents, with catcher Ivan Rodriguez mentioned. Bavasi's immediate concern was the impact of Sasaki's departure on the bullpen.

"It's not the happy shopping trip you think it is," Bavasi said. "You've got to fill that hole."

Sasaki, who turns 36 next month, leaves as Seattle's career leader with 129 saves over four years. He spent much of last season on the disabled list and went 1-2 with a 4.05 ERA and 10 saves.

Sasaki had hoped to rebound next season and finish his career with Seattle, but ultimately placed his family first. They stayed behind in Japan last summer, and Sasaki couldn't continue to live like that.

"When it came down to it, my kids were more important," Sasaki said. "I needed to be there for them. That was the deciding factor."

When Sasaki arrived at Safeco Field to complete the transaction, he made a final visit to the Mariners clubhouse. He ran across Martinez, Boone, Joel Pineiro, Dan Wilson and Jamie Moyer, who were working out.

"I almost started crying. It was very hard to say goodbye," Sasaki said.

In closing his remarks at a news conference, Sasaki thanked members of the news media. Leaving the interview room, he hugged trainer Rick Griffin and other team employees.

"I have a lot of great memories," Sasaki said. "The first year, I remember pitching against the Angels and clinching the wild card. I was fortunate to have great teammates and a great coaching staff."

Sasaki recently met in Japan with Mariners majority owner Hiroshi Yamauchi, who asked him to reconsider. The team ultimately agreed with his decision, with Bavasi saying it was pointless to continue Sasaki's emotional hardships.

"The way this worked out was perfect for the player and the club," Bavasi said. "It made the best of a bad situation."

The trickiest part, agent Tony Attanasio said, was working through needed legalities with the players' association and the commissioner's office.

The Mariners worked closely with Attanasio to ensure Sasaki could leave the major leagues but still play in Japan. While players have decided to quit earlier than they had to, the move never involved an overseas league.

"It was unprecedented," Attanasio said. "Club counsel Bart Waldman and I really had to jump through a few hoops in regards to getting all the appropriate paperwork done."