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.
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.
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.