Mets get Japanese reliever Igarashi with 2-yr deal

In this photo taken on March 7, 2009,

In this photo taken on March 7, 2009, Yakult Swallows' Ryota Igarashi pitches against Orix BlueWave in Osaka, western Japan. Hoping they've found their setup man on the other side of the globe, the New York Mets agreed to a $3 million, two-year contract with Japanese reliever Ryota Igarashi on Thursday, Dec. 17, 2009. (AP Photo/Kyodo News) ** JAPAN OUT, MANDATORY CREDIT, FOR COMMERCIAL USE ONLY IN NORTH AMERICA ** (Credit: AP Photo/)

Travel deals

NEW YORK— Hoping they found their setup man on the other side of the globe, the New York Mets agreed Thursday with Japanese reliever Ryota Igarashi on a $3 million, two-year contract.

The 30-year-old right-hander became the first major addition this offseason for the Mets following a 70-92 debacle that left them with a fourth-place finish in the NL East.

New York thinks Igarashi could fill the role of eighth-inning setup man for All-Star closer Francisco Rodriguez.

"We've had an interest in Ryota for two years," general manager Omar Minaya said in a statement. "He's got a power arm and an outstanding split-finger."

Igarashi went 3-2 with a 3.19 ERA and three saves in 56 games last season in Japan. He struck out 44 and walked 20 in 53 2-3 innings.

J.J. Putz's elbow injury created an eighth-inning hole in the Mets' bullpen this year. The right-hander had surgery June 9 and missed the rest of the season.

New York declined a $9.1 million option on Putz for 2010, choosing instead to pay a $1 million buyout. The reliever became a free agent and agreed to a $3 million, one-year contract with the Chicago White Sox.

With the Mets, Igarashi joins a bullpen that includes durable lefty Pedro Feliciano, and right-handers Brian Stokes and Sean Green.

Igarashi had elbow ligament replacement surgery in 2007, then went 3-2 with a 2.47 ERA and three saves in 44 games the following year.

The 5-foot-11, 190-pound pitcher was 47-29 with a 3.25 ERA and 54 saves for the Yakult Swallows in the Japanese Central League from 1999-09. He had 630 strikeouts in 570 innings.

"I have known the Mets' scout in Japan, Isao O'Jimi, since I was in high school," Igarashi said through a translator. "When I received the Mets' offer there was no doubt in my mind that this was the team I wanted to go to and start my career in the United States. I am looking forward to playing in New York and pitching in the same bullpen as Francisco Rodriguez."

Igarashi gets $1.25 million next season and $1.75 million in 2011. He can earn an additional $250,000 each season in performance bonuses: $50,000 each for 45, 50, 55, 60 and 65 appearances.

When the contract expires, Igarashi can become a free agent.

After missing out on several stars who changed teams recently, New York is still pursuing free-agent left fielder Jason Bay and catcher Bengie Molina.

The Mets have bid between $60 million and $65 million over four years for Bay. They also made a contract offer to Molina on the final day of the winter meetings last week.

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