Yanks win Igawa rights with $26M bid

NEW YORK -- The New York Yankees got a chance to sign a Japanese pitcher on their second try this offseason, winning the
rights Tuesday to Kei Igawa after losing out to the Boston Red Sox two weeks ago for Daisuke Matsuzaka.

New York's offer of $26,000,194 -- the last three digits matching
his strikeout total this year -- was the highest bid among major
league teams for Igawa, and it was accepted Tuesday by his Japanese
team, the Hanshin Tigers.

"The Yankees are a team with a lot of tradition," Igawa said
at a news conference in Osaka. "They get a lot of media attention,
like the Tigers do. I was surprised to hear the team bid that much
for me, and I feel like today I've taken another step toward
realizing my dream."

The Yankees' winning bid was first reported by ESPN The Magazine's Buster Olney.

A 27-year-old left-hander, Igawa could compete for a spot at the
back of New York's rotation next season behind Chien-Ming Wang,
Mike Mussina and Randy Johnson. Carl Pavano, coming off 1½ seasons
of injuries, also would be in the rotation if healthy, and the
Yankees have expressed possible interest in signing free agents
Ted Lilly or Gil Meche.

New York has until midnight at the end of Dec. 28 to work out a
contract with Igawa's agent, Arn Tellem -- who also represents
Yankees left fielder Hideki Matsui.

"Throughout the years, I have enjoyed an excellent working
relationship with the Yankees and look forward to completing
successful negotiations on behalf of Igawa," Tellem said in a
statement. "It will be an honor for me to help put him in
pinstripes for the 2007 season."

"We have been following Kei Igawa's very successful and
accomplished career in Japan, and we are excited about the
opportunity to begin the negotiating process with him," Yankees
general manager Brian Cashman said in a statement.

The Yankees pay Hanshin only if they reach an agreement with

"I am very pleased to have the rights to sign him for the
Yankees," owner George Steinbrenner said in a statement issued by
spokesman Howard Rubenstein.

Igawa went 14-9 last season with a 2.97 ERA. He tied for the
Central League lead in strikeouts -- he won strikeout titles in 2002
and 2004.

Igawa faced a touring team of MLB stars this past month, which included Mets stars Jose Reyes and David Wright. Igawa, who faced the MLB stars after a month layoff, gave up a home run to Wright and walked six batters in Japan's 7-2 loss.

Reyes was impressed with Igawa.

"He has good stuff," Reyes told Newsday. "He throws hard and has a good changeup."

Wright, however, gave Igawa mixed reviews.

"I just don't know," Wright told Newsday. "I'd have to see him when he's in midseason form. You send a guy up there after a month layoff and you can't get a handle on a guy. But as far as a lefty goes, he has a sneaky fastball. I thought he threw, for a lefty, an average to above-average fastball, an above-average changeup, and his slider was a little flat. But with a month off, who knows? Could be any number of reasons."

Igawa, the Central League's 2003 MVP, has an 86-60 record with a
3.15 ERA. He would have to play in Japan for three more seasons
before he could become a free agent.

Boston bid $51.1 million earlier this month to win the right to
negotiate with Seibu Lions' Matsuzaka, the MVP of the World
Baseball Classic and a possible No. 1 starter.

The Yankees bid between $32 million and $33 million for
Matsuzaka. The Red Sox have until midnight at the end of Dec. 14 to
agree to a deal with Matsuzaka and his agent, Scott Boras.

"I'm looking forward to having a pitching duel with
Matsuzaka," Igawa said. "I know the fans there have very high
expectations and I'll do my best to live up to them."

After the bidding on Igawa closed Monday, the Tigers were
informed of the amount of the high bid, but not which team made it.
The Mets bid between $15 million and $16 million for Igawa, a
baseball official said on condition of anonymity because the
amounts of losing bids are not disclosed.

Also this month, the Tampa Bay Devil Rays won the rights to
Japanese infielder Akinori Iwamura of the Yakult Swallows with a
bid of about $4.5 million.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.