Mariners make their pitch to Japanese ace Kuroda

SEATTLE — The Seattle Mariners have made their pitch to Hiroki Kuroda. Now they are waiting to see whether the Japanese ace will do the same for them next season.

Mariners general manager Bill Bavasi and manager John McLaren led a contingent to Japan this week that met with Kuroda and tried to persuade that country’s top free-agent pitcher to sign with Seattle.

“The Mariners are interested in Kuroda and have just returned to Seattle from Japan where they met with our client,” agent Joe Urbon wrote in an e-mail to The Associated Press on Wednesday.

Kuroda, a 32-year-old right-hander with a fastball in the mid-90-mph range and excellent control, would fill one of the Mariners’ biggest offseason needs. He was 12-8 with a 3.56 ERA in 26 starts last season for the Hiroshima Carp of the Central League. In 2006, he had a league-best 1.85 ERA. The year before that he led the Central League with 15 victories.

In 11 seasons with Hiroshima, he is 103-89 with a 3.69 ERA.

Bavasi and McLaren no doubt emphasized to Kuroda the opportunity to play with countrymen Ichiro Suzuki, Seattle’s superstar outfielder and franchise cornerstone, and Kenji Johjima, a catcher who would ease Kuroda’s transition into the major leagues. Johjima has one season remaining on a $16.5 million, three-year contract.

The Mariners have a well-established infrastructure for their Japanese stars to handle the daily swarm of media that follow their every move, another possible attraction for Kuroda. Seattle has two interpreters who travel with the team, are on the field with the Suzuki and Johjima during pregame drills and handle interview requests.

Seattle figures to have competition in signing Kuroda, largely because he is not subject to the expensive posting system that the Boston Red Sox had to go through to secure negotiating rights and then sign Daisuke Matsuzaka last winter. The Chicago Cubs are thought to be interested, but Kuroda has said he would prefer to play for a team on the West Coast.

Kuroda became a free agent by exercising an opt-out clause in the $10 million, four-year contract he signed with Hiroshima before last season.

“There is no turning back now,” Kuroda said this month. “I have to learn many things about the teams I’m interested in and I want to hold discussions with my agent about the negotiations that lie ahead.”

The Mariners are seeking new starters for a rotation that consistently failed to pitch deep into games, a flaw that ultimately doomed their surprising season last September. Jeff Weaver became a free agent this month and oft-injured Horacio Ramirez was a huge disappointment in his debut Seattle with Seattle in 2007.

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