Igawa pays a visit to Yankee Stadium
Left-hander, Bombers close to finalizing five-year deal
NEW YORK -- As Kei Igawa arrived at Yankee Stadium for a tour and a meeting with general manager Brain Cashman, a crowd of almost 40 Japanese reporters inched closer to the metallic-blue SUV that chauffeured the Japanese left-hander into the Bronx.
Igawa, with hair shorter than Johnny Damon's but probably a little longer than Yankee standard, stepped from the backseat, and it didn't take long for the camera flashes to go off.
A lone Yankees fan at the back of the scrum stated, "We didn't get Daisuke Matsuzaka, but we got Igawa."
Not quite, but the two sides are awfully close. All one had to see to know that was Igawa proudly wearing a Yankees jacket as he left the stadium. He was also wearing a big smile.
"It's a wonderful place and I want to pitch here," Igawa said of Yankee Stadium through a translation by a Japanese reporter. "The deal is not done, but it will be nice if we can do it."
Igawa and the Yankees have agreed in principle on a five-year, $20 million contract, but there are still some details to be ironed out.
Igawa, 27, flew into the Big Apple early Wednesday and spent much of the day just looking around. It wasn't quite what he expected.
"My impression about New York was that there would be a lot of people walking [on the streets]," said Igawa, who will take his physical on Thursday. "But I was surprised there were a lot of cars."
The chilly weather had a lot to do with keeping people indoors, yet it didn't stop the throng of Japanese media, who huddled together for a half-hour or more waiting for Igawa to arrive, then another hour to catch him as he left.
Media members there to catch the moment admitted that Igawa -- who went 14-9 last season with a 2.97 ERA and 194 strikeouts for the Japanese Central League's Hanshin Tigers -- isn't as big a star as the Yankees' other Japanese import, Hideki Matsui, but his presence here still means a lot back home.
It also means a lot to the Yankees, who could make Igawa the third lefty in their rotation if he joins Chien-Ming Wang, Mike Mussina, Randy Johnson, Andy Pettitte and Carl Pavano. Igawa will likely compete with Pavano in Spring Training for the fifth spot, but both could be in the rotation to start the season if Johnson isn't recovered from offseason back surgery.
"Brian told me that he wants me to be with the team," Igawa said.
He soon will be. New York and Igawa have until Dec. 28 to finalize an agreement after the Yankees bid a little more than $26 million for the left-hander.
Igawa is scheduled to fly back to Japan on Saturday, and the Yankees aren't expected to make a formal introduction with a news conference until January.
Pettitte, who took a physical in New York on Tuesday, has flown back to Houston to attend to a family matter. The Yankees will introduce him by conference call on Thursday.
Peter Zellen is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.