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Pitcher gives up guaranteed $8.5M

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.

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."