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Sox land Okajima

Posted by Eric Wilbur, Boston.com Staff  November 30, 2006 12:10 PM

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The Red Sox made a move to bolster their bullpen today by acquiring lefthanded pitcher Hideki Okajima.

According to the Globe's Gordon Edes, the deal is for $1.25 million per year for 2007 and 2008, with an option for the 2009 season.

The 30-year-old Okajima had been one of the better setup men in Japan, and his presence could provide an easier transition for Daisuke Matsuzaka into the American culture next season (assuming the Red Sox reach a deal with Matsuzaka). Okajima spent 11 seasons with the Yomiuri Giants before being traded to the Nippon Ham Fighters prior to last season. He was 2-2 with a 2.14 ERA with four saves for the Fighters.

For his career, the lefty is 34-32, with a 3.36 ERA and 41 saves over 439 games. He will turn 31 on Christmas Day.

Okajima has never faced Yankees outfielder Hideki Matsui because the two were teammates in Japan.

Daigo Fujiwara, the founder of JapaneseBallplayers.com, provided the following analysis of Okajima:

Okajima is a three-time Japan Series winner, twice with the Yomiuri Giants in 2000 and 2002 (he was a teammate of Hideki Matsui, who he would be facing a lot, if signed), and this year (2006) with the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters.

He has faced tough lefty opponents in critical situations out of the 'pen and proven his ability in Japan. He has a "big" curve, which is tough for lefthanded batters to hit, and he's held lefty hitters to less than a .200 average in '05 and '06.

Bottom line is, Okajima is a solid situational lefthanded pitcher, and probably will cost much less than three years at $12 million that Orioles paid Jamie Walker. And Okajima is four years younger than Walker.

An official announcement will take place at Fenway Park later this afternoon.

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