Royals agree to two-year deal with Japanese reliever Yabuta

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Reliever Yasuhiko Yabuta has agreed to a $6 million, two-year contract with the Kansas City Royals and will compete for a spot as the team's primary setup man.

A 34-year-old right-hander, Yabuta spent 12 seasons with the Pacific League's Chiba Lotte Marines, who are managed by Bobby Valentine.

Trey Hillman, who spent the past five years managing the Nippon Ham Fighters before being hired last month by the Royals, was helpful in persuading Yabuta to come to Kansas City.

"I don't know how much that factors in," Royals general manager Dayton Moore said Wednesday. "But let's face it, we've all been exposed to different things in our lives for the first time. I think the fact that Trey is very well respected not only in the U.S. but in Japan and is very familiar with the Japanese culture certainly helps."

Yabuta gets $2.5 million next season and $3 million in 2009. The Royals have a $4 million option for 2010 with a $500,000 buyout, but the option becomes Yabuta's if he pitches in a specified amount of games.

In addition, he can earn $500,000 annually in performance bonuses.

Yabuta has a 44-59 career record with nine saves and a 4.03 ERA in 343 appearances, including 86 starts. He was 4-6 with four saves and a 2.73 ERA in 58 relief outings this past season, then became a free agent. He walked 10 in 62 2/3 innings and struck out 45.

He will be introduced to the Kansas City media on Thursday.

"Yasuhiko has been one of the best relievers in Japan the last several years," Moore said. "He will be an important veteran arm that will help add stability to the back end of our bullpen."

An interpreter will be hired for Yabuta, but the Royals believe Hillman's Japanese language skills will be adequate for any communication during games. Interprets are not allowed in dugouts.

"He throws a fastball, changeup, splitter," Moore said. "He has a slider. The changeup and split are the main reasons he's had so much success against left-handers. He keeps his fastball down in the zone. He doesn't walk a lot of guys. He makes them beat him. That's something we like."

Moore said his fastball is in the 88-92 mph range.

Kansas City plans to be more aggressive internationally.

"Hopefully, we will be more successful," Moore said. "When I was with the Braves and doing international work, you want to sign somebody who makes sense for your team and helps you win. But it's a passion and a goal to get involved with the [Japanese] market. The players that play in Asia are very skilled baseball players, very talented. We all witnessed that when they won the World Baseball Classic. They're very fundamentally sound baseball players. We want to be very competitive in every talent pool that exists. This is certainly one of the better talent pools out there."