Hideki Okajima Looking for Comfort, Security in New Contract

Since coming over from the Yomiuri Giants in 2007, Hideki Okajima has provided the Red Sox with three years of security in the set-up corps of their bullpen. Now, the southpaw wants some security of his own.

Okajima has been one of the best bargains in baseball during his brief major league tenure, after signing a two-year, $2.5 million deal prior to the 2007 season that included a $1.75 million team option, which the Red Sox exercised for 2009. According to Fan Graphs, Okajima has provided Boston with $14 million in total value, nearly $10 million more than he has been paid.

An unheralded member of the Red Sox’ 2007 championship team, Okajima has gone 12-4 with an aggregate 2.72 ERA and 1.13 WHIP in his first three seasons in the Show. He has been a vital cog for Terry Francona in the seventh and eighth innings, and also has filled in admirably when closer Jonathan Papelbon was unavailable.

Perhaps the only negative experience of Okajima’s American career to date was a misunderstanding that led to the firing of his former agent, Peter Greenberg. Greenberg wrongly informed Okajima that he would be a free agent after fulfilling his initial contractual agreement with the Red Sox, but the 33-year-old — now represented by Boston-based agent Joe Rosen — is instead under team control for three more years as an arbitration-eligible player.

Not surprisingly, Okajima wants to be rewarded for his efforts with more than the standard one-year deal, which will undoubtedly have him earning less than he contributes to the Red Sox again. He outlined his requests in a report on the Japanese-language Web site Sponichi on Monday.

“I requested to my agent that I’d like a personal translator to be brought in,” Okajima told the site. “More than money, I want to play baseball in America even a year longer.”

Okajima also said that he has enjoyed playing in Boston, and even if he were a free agent, his preference likely would have been to return to the Red Sox. Still, going year by year is a risky proposition for any relief pitcher because of the volatile nature of the position, and Okajima is looking to hedge his bets this winter and ensure his future.


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