Japanese pitcher Tazawa moves closer to signing with Red Sox

TOKYO -- Japanese pitcher Junichi Tazawa moved a step closer to signing with the Boston Red Sox after rejecting offers from three other major league teams.

The 22-year-old right-hander contacted the Texas Rangers, Seattle Mariners and Atlanta Braves on Friday to reject their offers, Kyodo News agency reported Friday.

Tazawa is expected to hold a news conference early next week to announce his decision. He reportedly received offers from the Rangers, Braves, Mariners and Red Sox.

The hard-throwing Tazawa is a standout in Japan's corporate leagues. He asked Japan's professional teams not to select him in November's amateur draft so that he can pursue a career in the U. S. major leagues.

Tazawa helped Nippon Oil win the intercity tournament in September and reach the semifinals of the corporate championship that ended Sunday.

No rule prevents American teams from pursuing Japanese amateurs, although current stars such as Ichiro Suzuki of the Seattle Mariners and Daisuke Matsuzaka of the Red Sox first made names for themselves playing in Japan's pro leagues.

Several major league teams have been reluctant to pursue Tazawa for fear of upsetting relations between Major League Baseball and Nippon Professional Baseball.

After Tazawa made clear his intention to bypass Japan's draft, Japan's professional baseball teams agreed to introduce a ban on players who return to the country after opting out of the amateur draft in order to play for overseas pro teams.