Hoping they found their setup man on the other side of the globe, the New York Mets agreed yesterday with Japanese reliever Ryota Igarashi on a $3 million, 2-year contract.
The 30-year-old righthander became the first major addition this offseason for the Mets following a 70-92 debacle that left them with a fourth-place finish in the NL East.
New York thinks Igarashi can fill the role of eighth-inning setup man for All-Star closer Francisco Rodriguez.
"We've had an interest in Ryota for 2 years," general manager Omar Minaya said in a statement. "He's got a power arm and an outstanding split-finger."
Igarashi went 3-2 with a 3.19 ERA and three saves in 56 games last season in Japan. He struck out 44 and walked 20 in 53 2/3 innings.
J.J. Putz' elbow injury created an eighth-inning hole in the Mets' bullpen this year. The righthander had surgery June 9 and missed the rest of the season.
New York declined a $9.1 million option on Putz for 2010, choosing instead to pay a $1 million buyout. The reliever became a free agent and agreed to a $3 million, 1-year contract with the Chicago White Sox.
With the Mets, Igarashi joins a bullpen that includes durable lefty Pedro Feliciano, and righthanders Brian Stokes and Sean Green.
Igarashi had elbow ligament replacement surgery in 2007, then went 3-2 with a 2.47 ERA and three saves in 44 games the following year.
The 5-11, 190-pound pitcher was 47-29 with a 3.25 ERA and 54 saves for the Yakult Swallows in the Japanese Central League from 1999-09. He had 630 strikeouts in 570 innings.
"I have known the Mets' scout in Japan, Isao O'Jimi, since I was in high school," Igarashi said through a translator. "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."
When the contract expires, Igarashi can become a free agent.
After missing out on several stars who changed teams recently, New York is still pursuing free-agent leftfielder Jason Bay and catcher Bengie Molina.
In other news:
* After an MRI and an examination, a doctor determined that Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez won't need more work on his surgically repaired right hip.
In another matter, the Yankees are said to be close to signing veteran utility man Nick Johnson, who played for Washington and Florida last season.
* Third baseman Garrett Atkins and reliever Mike Gonzalez have reached preliminary agreements with the Baltimore Orioles, people familiar with the negotiations told the Associated Press. Gonzalez gets a $12 million, 2-year contract and Atkins receives a 1-year deal with an option for 2011 that guarantees him $4.5 million. The deals are pending physicals, according to the people, who spoke separately on condition of anonymity because the contracts had not been completed.