Saturday, November 25, 2006

Are Yankees Feigning Disinterest in SP Kei Igawa?

It isn't difficult to imagine Yankees GM Brian Cashman -- wittingly or unwittingly -- as the ultimate source of a subtle whispering campaign denegrating potential Japanese free agent starting pitcher Kei Igawa. The resulting chatter around the Bronx has Igawa being painted as little better than a back-of-the-rotation hack, unworthy of anything more than mild interest from the Yankees.

That Igawa has mediocre stuff may be true, or it may be a slander designed to hold down Igawa's bidding price. What would Cashman be expected to say; that the Yankees want Igawa and money is no object? No, if you're interested in him, better to be coy, for whatever else Igawa may or may not be, he is in his prime at 27 and is left-handed, which counts for something; and this year's free agent market for pitchers is a tad thin.

Igawa has had more than a solid career in Japan, with a 14-9 record and 2.97 ERA last year for the Hanshin Tigers, coming off his career best of 20-5 with a 2.80 ERA in '03. Based on his record, there's no reason Igawa shouldn't be able to throw 200 innings a season, year in and year out.

Like most lefties, Igawa doesn't throw especially hard. His fastball is usually clocked in the high '80s, sometimes as high as 92 when he reaches back for something extra. But Confucious say good things come in small packages, as the 6-foot-1, 190-pound hurler has a nifty little breaking ball, and varies speeds so effectively with his 75-mph changeup that he has led his league in strikeouts three times, racking up 809 in 843 innings over six years.

OK, Igawa will never become the next Steve Carlton, but for some reason the Diamondbacks, Cubs, Mets, Giants, Dodgers, Padres, Mariners, Indians and Braves all consider him worth their attention, not to mention the Yankees.

Perhaps $10 million would once have been considered a reasonable price for the right to negotiate for the services of a pitcher such as Igawa. But with the Red Sox having recently outbid the competition by nearly 40 percent to pay $51 million just for negotiating rights to Igawa countryman Daisuke Matsuzaka, who can say?

Don't expect a revival of Tennesee Williams, but the next presentation of "Night of the Igawa" will likely come on the evening of Dec. 1, by which time the Japanese will have decided whether they have been successful in exacting yet another pound of flesh or two or three from inscrutable Americans like Brian Cashman.