Iwamura's agent is still playing hardball

With only five days left, Rays remain far from a deal with Japanese infielder Akinori Iwamura.

By Marc Topkin
Published December 11, 2006

ST. PETERSBURG - With only five negotiating days until Friday's midnight deadline, Japanese infielder Akinori Iwamura and the Devil Rays remain far apart.

There are significant differences in terms of money and contract structure, as well as philosophy.

Agent Alan Nero is looking for a deal based on the current free-agent market and said Iwamura, despite wanting to play in the majors, is prepared to return to Japan if they don't get close to what they are looking for.

"If he's not being treated fairly he'd certainly have the opportunity to go back, and he would be welcomed back," Nero said.

The Rays see Iwamura, 27, as an unproven major-league commodity and want to pay him accordingly, somewhere close to what Tadahito Iguchi got from the White Sox, a two-year deal for $4.95-million with an option. Plus, they have to factor in the $4.5-million posting fee they would pay Iwamura's Yakult team if he signs.

"We feel like there is a fairly defined market of comparable Japanese players that have come to the majors leagues, and that account for the risk of never having played here," Rays executive vice president Andrew Friedman said. "We feel it's much too big of a stretch to compare players who have never played in the majors to those who have played enough to obtain free agency."

A key issue is whether Iwamura could become a free agent in less than the usual six years.

"It's a difficult situation," Nero said. "Basically you're being held hostage and you don't have anywhere to go."

RED SOX: Negotiations with Japanese pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka have nearly broken down, the Boston Herald reported. The team bid $51.1-million for the negotiating rights. Its initial offer was believed to be $7-million to $8-million a year for 4-6 years, but agent Scott Boras reportedly seeks nearly $15-million.

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.