Mets Snag Igarashi

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The New York Mets signed righthanded pitcher Ryota Igarashi to a two year,  $3 million contract Thursday.

Igarashi, 30, was 47-29 with 54 saves and a 3.25 ERA in 507 games for the Yakult Swallows of the Japanese Central League from 1999-2009. He recorded 630 strikeouts in 570 innings for an average of 9.95 strikeouts per nine innings.

“We’ve had an interest in Ryota for two years,” said Mets General Manager Omar Minaya. “He’s got a power arm and an outstanding split-finger.” Igarashi gets $1.25 million next season and $1.75 million in 2011. He can earn an additional $250,000 each season in performance bonuses: $50,000 each for 45, 50, 55, 60 and 65 appearances.

When the contract expires, Igarashi can become a free agent.

The 5-11, 190-pound hurler went 3-2 with three saves and a 3.19 ERA in 56 games last year. In 53.2 innings, he surrendered 42 hits, 19 earned, with 20 walks and 44 strikeouts.

Mets relief pitching was below average in the National League last year giving up 4.67 runs per game. Of the four playoff teams, only Philadelphia’s relief pitching gave up more than four runs per game. The Mets were also below average in holds and were tied for second in relief losses with 28.

With the Mets, Igarashi joins a bullpen that includes durable lefty Pedro Feliciano, and right-handers Brian Stokes and Sean Green. Feliciano has been good for the Mets. Green’s a little overpaid for what he is. Stokes supposedly  can start and relieve, though he has a 5.15 ERA for his career as a reliever.

Igarashi has the best stuff of the bunch with a mid-to upper 90s fastball and a hard splitter that he throws at around 90mph. He’s also got a slider and a curve that he’ll mix in occasionally, but he’s primarily a fastball/splitter pitcher.

He established a career-best 37 saves in 2004, but has remained a set-up man/middle reliever for most of his career because he’s struggled with his control. It must be noted that Takashi Saito had control issues in Japan as well, but when he came to the States, with the wider strike zone, he suddenly blossomed into a shutdown closer.

Of course, the Mets locked up a ton of money in Francisco Rodriguez to fill the closer role, so Igarashi will most likely step into the setup spot.

J.J. Putz’s elbow injury created an eighth-inning hole in the Mets’ bullpen this year. The right-hander had surgery June 9 and missed the rest of the season. Putz was pretty awful for the Mets anyway, posting a terrible 5.22 ERA, losing four games and blowing half of his four save opportunities. He also posted a 1.636 WHIP (walks plus hits per innings pitched) nearly a full point up from the .698 WHIP he put up during his all-star year in 2007.

So, it was pretty much a no-brainer when New York declined a $9.1-million option on Putz for 2010, choosing instead to pay a $1-million buyout. Putz has upside of course, and agreed to a $3-million, one-year contract with the Chicago White Sox.

Igarashi also suffered from elbow problems, undergoing elbow ligament replacement surgery in 2007. But he bounced back and went 3-2 with a 2.47 ERA and three saves with 42 strikeouts in 44 games in 2008.

“I have known the Mets scout in Japan, Isao O’Jimi, since I was in high school,” Igarashi said through an interpreter. “When I received the Mets offer there was no doubt in my mind that this was the team I wanted to go to and start my career in the United States. I am looking forward to playing in New York and pitching in the same bullpen as Francisco Rodriguez.”

The Mets have had nine Japanese-born players appear in at least one game. The results have ranged from “Eh…” to massive, heart-wrenching disappointment. The list includes: Ken Takahashi, who pitched well in limited time; Takashi Kashiwada, who won 3 of 4 games; Hideo Nomo, for a couple of ho-hum months; Masato Yoshii, who went 18-16 over his two seasons in New York; and Satoru Komiyama, who went 0-3.

The Mets have also had Mr. Metrosexual, Tsuyoshi Shinjo; Mr. Brick Head, Kazuhisa Ishii; Mr. Zero, Shingo Takatsu; and of course, Mr. Disabled-List, Kazuo Matsui.

In other news, Ichiro Suzuki must be giddy at the recent moves the Seattle Mariners have made. Friday, general manager Jack Zduriencik got another big piece when he traded away the Ichiro-hating Carlos Silva for the moody malcontent Milton Bradley.

As you may remember, Silva was the guy who spoke out to reporters during the Mariners 106-loss season and told them that there were a bunch of players in the clubhouse who wanted to “knock out” Ichiro. Bradley, meanwhile is a guy with a lot of talent, but one who is injury-prone and never sticks with any team because of his bad attitude. Dodgers fans remember the bottle-throwing incident and last year, Bradley was suspended at the end of the regular season after repeatedly making inflammatory statements and having run-ins with reporters.

Even still, I love this move for the Mariners. Silva had no future with the team. There might be a certain amount of leeway given for a player popping off at the mouth about the franchise cornerstone if said player is performing at a high level. But the only thing high about Silva’s pitching has been his ERA. Since signing his four-year $48 million deal, Silva has gone 5-18 with a Bob Marley-high 6.83 ERA the past two seasons.

On the flipside, Bradley has a career OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage) of .821. Since he turned 24, he’s alternated between good and bad years. Last year, he hit .257 and was so much of a distraction that the Cubs traded him away for, well, for Silva. But the year before, he led the AL in OBP (on-base percentage) and OPS.

All that to say, Bradley’s due for another good year. And dude can rake. While he can hit for power (85 extra base hits over his last 250 games), his main weapon is his ability to get on base, an area where the Mariners ranked dead last in the American League.

Bradley’s also a switch hitter who hits lefties better than righties and can platoon with Ken Griffey Jr. (at this point bad against lefties) at the DH spot. This will save Bradley from from overexposure to injuries playing left field.

The hope is that manager Don Wakamatsu can build a good relationship with Bradley, and/or that Junior can have the same sort of influence on Bradley that he did with Ichiro.

The payoff of a content and happy Bradley cold be huge. Bradley, at peak performance, has proven to be an MVP-caliber player. Of course, he’s never played more than 126 games, but his upside is far and away better than anything Silva could offer—especially for an offensively-starved team like the Mariners.

Worst case, they can always cut him—the M’s probably weren’t going to get anything from Silva any way, so that money was as lost as Silva is on the mound. Silva is owed $11.5 million for both 2010 and 2011 with a $12 million option in 2012. Bradley is owed about $23 million over the next two seasons.

The best part for Mariners fans (not so much for Halo fans) is that the team is not finished making moves. They are still talking amicably with Adrian Beltre and are looking for a slugging first baseman.

I know it’s early, but given the lights out one-two punch of Felix Hernandez and Cliff Lee (very reminiscent of the Randy Johnson/Curt Schilling pairing during Arizona’s World Series championship run) and the additions of Chone Figgins and Bradley, Ichiro might get a chance to be the first Japan-born player to win a regular season MVP and a World Series MVP.

How about dem Apples Godzilla?

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Jordan Ikeda is the Rafu sports editor. He can be contacted at (213) 629-2231
ext. 148 or by email at [email protected] or via Facebook at Rafu-Sports Man. The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of
the Rafu Shimpo.

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