You'd have thought that pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka was
the last player left in Japan, given what the Red Sox bid ($51.1 million) last
month just to talk to him. (D-Mat has yet to sign.) But plenty of Japanese
league stars are attracting attention on this side of the Pacific:
? Kei Igawa, LHP. The Yankees won the rights to the
27-year-old (left) with a $26,000,194 bid—the last three digits a tribute to
his league-leading strikeout total last season. He has yet to sign with the
Yanks, but nonetheless he's ready for the Sox: "I'm looking forward to
having a pitching duel with Matsuzaka."
? Hideki Okajima, LHP. The Red Sox gave him a
two-year, $2.5 million deal to come out of the bullpen—and be a buddy to
Matsuzaka. Said G.M. Theo Epstein, "If we do end up with two Japanese
pitchers, that certainly would help the assimilation process."
? Akinori Iwamura, 3B. A day after the Matsuzaka derby
ended, the Devil Rays won the rights to the 27-year-old Yakult Swallows slugger
(right) with a $4.5 million bid. A career .300 hitter, he is reportedly close
to signing a deal.
?Julio Zuleta, 1B. One of the Japan's leading
sluggers, the former Cub, 31, is eyeing a return to the bigs. His sales pitch:
He owns Matsuzaka, off whom he hit seven homers. Said Zuleta's agent, "He's
seen him more than anybody."