Via Jayson Stark:
Kei Igawa isn’t quite as buried on that Yankees’ depth chart as Carl Pavano, but it’s close. And he’s already homesick. We’ve heard from two different baseball men recently that Igawa asked the Yankees over the winter if there was any way he could return to Japan. The Yankees quietly explored their options, got nowhere and gave up. They’re still on the hook for nearly $11 million to Igawa through the 2010 season.
Now, this isn’t an original idea. RAB commenters have mentioned it; my mom has mentioned it. But how hard could the Yankees have tried to ship Igawa back to Japan?
Kyle Kendrick’s experience aside, a trade back to Japan for Igawa would be fairly unprecedented. Japanese League players — Alfonso Soriano and Hideo Nomo, I’m looking at you — have “retired” in Japan so that they could sign MLB free agent contracts, but never in the history of the game has an American team traded a player back to his home country.
At this point, it’s clear that the Yanks have just about slammed the book on the Kei Igawa Era. He has never been an effective Major Leaguer, and he’s not a part of any of the Yanks’ long- or short-term plans. He’s owed just $11 million over the next two and a half seasons, a paltry sum by Yankee standards. So why not just release him?
Well, the Yanks don’t want to let him go because they’re afraid that some other team will pick him up for the league minimum and catch lightening in a bottle. By now, though, considering that the Yanks have even explored sending him back to Japan, it’s clear that Igawa is nothing more than a warm body to fill space at AAA. He’s probably going to end his brief American career as the highest-paid AAA starter ever, but that’s better than watching him get shelled in the Bronx.