BOSTON -- The Red Sox do not plan to tender a contract to left-handed reliever Hideki Okajima, a club source said Wednesday night.
Okajima, who was paid $2.8 million in 2010 ($2.75 million in salary, an additional $50,000 in performance bonuses), is arbitration-eligible. Last year, his first in which he was eligible for arbitration, Okajima more than doubled his salary from the $1.25 million he was paid in 2009.
By not tendering Okajima a contract, he becomes a free agent. The Sox could still attempt to sign him, but with left-handed relievers at a premium, Okajima is likely to draw interest, even though his performance in 2010 was his worst in four seasons with the Sox.
Joseph Rosen, who represents Okajima, said the fact that the deadline for tendering contracts has been moved up almost three weeks takes some of the pressure off the player. In the past, nontendered players were at a disadvantage because many free agents already had been signed by that time.
“Hopefully, he will be tendered,’’ Rosen said earlier Wednesday. “If not, we hope there will be a lot of interest in him.’’
A nontender from Boston would not push Okajima to go elsewhere, Rosen said.
“Of course not,’’ he said. “He’s had a good time in Boston. He’s open (to coming back).’’
Okajima, a vital part of the Sox bullpen in his first three seasons with the Red Sox, had numbers in 2010 that across the board were his worst since signing with the Red Sox from the Yomiuri Giants: His ERA (4.50), hits per nine IP (11.5), walks per nine IP (3.9) and walks and hits per innings pitched (1.717) were up. His strikeouts were down (6.5). On the road, he was especially dreadful, as opposing hitters battered him (.398/.465/.534/.999).
By the time he went on the disabled list Aug. 6 with a strained hamstring, he’d lost the confidence of manager Terry Francona. He pitched well after his return (1.38 ERA in 15 September appearances), but most of his outings were with the team well ahead or behind.
Okajima turns 35 on Dec. 25. Given that he’s not a power pitcher, it’s not a stretch to believe that he could bounce back in 2011, especially if he regains command of his fastball. But the team is committed to rebuilding its bullpen, and the Sox may elect to turn to another lefty going forward.