Japanese shortstop wants to team with Ichiro

Munenori Kawasaki, shown here playing for Japan in the 2006 World Baseball Classic, has indicated he'd like to play for the Mariners. (Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

Munenori Kawasaki, a 30-year-old Japanese shortstop, has expressed an interest in playing for the Mariners. The question now is whether the Mariners are interested in Kawasaki.

The 5-foot-11, 165-pounder became a free agent in Japan and held a news conference Thursday in which he said he wants to play in the Major Leagues, but only for Seattle. Here’s our story on that on MLB.com.

As a free agent, there is no posting fee required so the Mariners wouldn’t have to outbid the competition as with Ichiro and other top Japanese talent. Pitcher Yu Darvish is debating whether to begin the posting process and he’ll draw considerable interest if he does.

Kawasaki isn’t at that level, but he has played shortstop for the champion Fukuoka Softbank Hawks and is a four-time All-Star. He competed on the Japanese  National team with Ichiro in the World Baseball Classic in 2006 and 2009.

Kawasaki is at least on the Mariners radar and has been scouted by the team in Japan. And Jack Zduriencik is on record as saying a backup shortstop is on his to-do list this winter, given Brendan Ryan’s neck injury that sidelined him the final few weeks of last season.

However, before everyone jumps the gun too far on Kawasaki, he is 30 years old and while he’s a career .294 hitter, that number dropped to .267 with one home run last year for Fukuoka. He had a .310 on-base percentage and .327 slugging percentage in 603 at-bats. so he’s definitely not a big bat.

He is regarded as a quality defender with good baseball instincts, speed and hustle. He stole 31 bases in 41 attempts last year, but bear in mind that teammate Yuichi Honda swiped 60 bags.

If Kawasaki is willing to come to the Mariners on a Minor League deal, he might get a shot as a non-roster invitee. Adam Kennedy, Jamey Wright, Chris Ray and Ryan Langerhans all made the Opening Day roster that way last year, so it’s not an impossible avenue.

My guess is the Mariners will wait to see how things play out in the free agent market first. But Kawasaki is at least an interesting, low-cost option, if he indeed is a legitimate Major League prospect.

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