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Tuesday, November 5
Slugger hit 42 HRs last season with 115 RBI

Associated Press

TOKYO -- Japanese slugger Norihiro Nakamura became a free agent Tuesday, clearing the way for a possible move to the major leagues.

Nakamura, who hit 42 homers for the Kintetsu Buffaloes this season, is the second power-hitting Japanese star to declare free agency in the past week. Yomiuri Giants slugger Hideki Matsui said last Friday he intends to pursue a career in the major leagues.

Nakamura batted .294 with 115 RBI in 140 games this year. Several major league teams -- including the Arizona Diamondbacks and Los Angeles Dodgers -- are reportedly interested in the veteran third baseman.

Matsui and Nakamura are eligible for free agency because they each have nine years of service in the Japanese major leagues. They have the same status as major league players who file for free agency: they can start talking money with teams Nov. 13.

The New York Yankees are expected to pursue Matsui this offseason.

Nakamura, unlike Matsui, has not said whether he intends to play in the United States. Nakamura could sign with a team in Japan.

Former Japanese star Ichiro Suzuki, now a star outfielder for the Seattle Mariners, was the American League Most Valuable Player and Rookie of the Year in 2001.

Tuffy Rhodes, a former big league player, was a teammate of Nakamura's in Japan.

''He's a great player,'' Rhodes said in August. ''I've known him for eight years and I think he'd have no problem making it in the majors.''

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