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Hot Stone League

Larry Stone gives his take on a wide array of baseball issues and weighs in about the Mariners, too.

December 15, 2011 at 10:12 AM

Look for Mariners to sign Japanese free agent: Munenori Kawasaki, not Yu Darvish

It doesn’t appear the Mariners are players in the Yu Darvish sweepstakes — the word on the street is that the Toronto Blue Jays put in a “whopper” offer — but it does look like they will land a Japanese player soon.

The player is free-agent shortstop Munenori Kawasaki, and it’s not a huge surprise that he’s ending up with the Mariners. Not when he said at a news conference in Fukuoka two weeks ago that the only MLB team he would play for is the Mariners, so that he could be united with his idol and mentor, Ichiro. Furthermore, Kawasaki said he would be willing to accept a minor-league deal with Seattle.

I’m hearing that Kawasaki is currently in town with his wife, and will sign a minor-league contract with the Mariners. (This website already has him with the ballclub, but that’s jumping the gun a bit. The deal will happen, but now I’m being told it might not become official until after the holidays). Unlike Darvish, who went through the posting system, requiring both a posting fee and a contract for an MLB team to land him, Kawasaki is a complete free agent because of his service time in Japan.

Kawasaki, 30, hit .267 in 2011 for the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks, who won the Japan Series championship. The left-handed hitter has batted over .300 five times, most recently in 2010 (.316). The lure for Kawasaki in Seattle is a chance to play with Ichiro, his teammate twice in the World Baseball Classic. He is said to have a “slap-and-run” hitting style similar to Ichiro’s (he has just 27 homers in 10 years), and is regarded as a strong glove man with a lot of range at shortstop. Kawasaki has also stolen as many as 44 bases in a season and had 31 steals last year. But he doesn’t walk much and had a .647 OPS in 603 at-bats last year.

With Seattle, Kawasaki would come to spring training to compete for a job. He played third base in the WBC and can play second base as well, and would seem to be a strong candidate for a utility job. His presence could be a positive one for Ichiro, as well, as the two are said to have a good relationship.

On another front, I wrote today that the Mariners are sniffing around regarding free agent outfielder Michael Cuddyer. It had been thought that the Twins were out of the running after signing Josh Willingham, but there’s a potentially significant development on that front today, with news that the Twins believe they can still re-sign Cuddyer.

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