It’s finally official: Kawasaki signs with Mariners

Japanese shortstop Munenori Kawasaki signed a Minor League deal with an invite to Major League camp with the Mariners on Wednesday. (Getty Images)

The long-awaited announcement of Japanese shortstop Munenori Kawasaki signing with the Mariners became official Wednesday, setting up what figures to be an interesting competition for the utility infielder job in Spring Training.

Kawasaki, an eight-time All-Star infielder in Japan’s Pacific League, signed as a Minor League free agent with an invitation to the club’s Major League camp in Spring Training.

But he’ll have a legitimate shot to make the team, given the need for a backup shortstop to Brendan Ryan and someone who can fill in at second or third base as well. Luis Rodriguez had that role much of last season and he’ll return on a Minor League deal as well.

“Being able to add a player with the resume that Kawasaki possesses is very good news for the Mariners,” general manager Jack Zduriencik said. “We are looking forward to having him compete for a Major League position in Spring Training. He is a high-energy player with a record of success in Japan.”

Kawasaki’s signing has been expected since before Christmas, but the club didn’t finalize its deal with the 30-year-old until now.

He hit .294 with 631 runs scored and 262 stolen bases in 1,145 games over 11 seasons in Japan, was an All-Star from 2004-11 with Fukuoka and won two gold gloves at shortstop.

Kawasaki played with Mariners star Ichiro Suzuki on Japan’s gold-medal winning World Baseball Classic squad in 2009 and told reporters in Japan that he wanted to play with Ichiro in the Major Leagues, even if it meant taking a Minor League contract offer.

Kawasaki is regarded as more of a defender than an offensive force, but those who follow Japanese baseball say he’s a smart, gritty player and he’s recorded 20 or more stolen bases in eight of his past nine seasons, including a league-leading 42 in ’04.

It’ll be interesting to see how he fares this Spring. Certainly he’s a low-risk candidate, given his willingness to sign the Minor League deal, so chalk this up as possible way to fill a need while still leaving payroll for other pursuits.

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