Devil Rays obtain negotiating rights to Iwamura

Updated: November 15, 2006, 8:45 PM ET
Associated Press

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- The Tampa Bay Devil Rays won the negotiating rights to Japanese star infielder Akinori Iwamura on Wednesday, submitting a winning bid of about $4.5 million for the power hitter.

On Tuesday, the Boston Red Sox agreed to pay $51.1 million for the rights to talk to Japanese star pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka.

The Devil Rays have 30 days to finalize a contract with Iwamura, a six-time Gold Glove third baseman. Tampa Bay vice president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman said Iwamura also capable of playing the outfield and first and second base.

If he is not signed by Dec. 15, Tampa Bay doesn't have to pay, and Iwamura returns to play in Japan.

"One of the things we like about him is his position flexibility," Friedman said, adding that subsequent moves the Devil Rays make in free agency or via trades would impact what role Iwamura would fill.

The 27-year-old Iwamura was a five-time All-Star in eight seasons with the Yakult Swallows. A left-handed hitter, he batted .311 with 32 homers and 77 RBIs in a career-high 145 games last season.

The Devil Rays have been interested in Iwamura since watching him in the World Baseball Classic last spring. In six games, he hit .389 and helped Japan win the inaugural WBC championship.

Iwamura hit 188 homers with 570 RBIs with Yakult. He hit at least 30 home runs in each of the past three years and set a Swallows record for most homers by a Japanese native with 44 in 2004.

Friedman was optimistic about the prospect of the Devil Rays landing the infielder.

"We knew certain teams were interested, but didn't know the extent," Friedman said. "We were hopeful to be in this position, but not expecting it."

Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press

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