BY SPNW Staff 04:20PM 01/11/2012

Mariners Sign Eight-Time Japanese All-Star INF

No word on Prince Fielder, but the Mariners added two free agents, both on minor league contracts, in the past two days. Mariners pitchers and catchers report Feb. 11.

The Seattle Mariners signed Japanese infielder Munenori Kawasaki to a minor league contract and invited him to spring training. / Photo by Baseball Pacific International

The Seattle Mariners, who signed free agent Japanese righthander Hisashi Iwakuma (he-sash-ee e-wah-kuma) less than a week ago, Wednesday added Japanese infielder and eight-time All-Star Munenori Kawasaki to a minor league contract with an invite to spring training.

It’s the second minor league contract to which the Mariners have agreed in two days. The club Tuesday signed right-handed pitcher Aaron Heilman, a veteran of nine major league seasons with the New York Mets (2003-2008), Chicago Cubs (2009) and Arizona Diamondbacks (2010-2011) — and, briefly, a Mariner.

For a little more than a month prior to the 2009 season, Heilman was on Seattle’s roster after being acquired from the Mets as part of a 12-player, three-team trade in exchange for RHP J.J. Putz, RHP Sean Green and OF Jeremy Reed on Dec. 11, 2008. But Heilman was traded to the Cubs Jan. 28, 2009 in exchange for LHP Garrett Olson and INF Ronny Cedeño.

Kawasaki, 30, is an eight-time All-Star (2004-11) and a two-time Golden Glove winner with Fukuoka in the Japan Pacific League. In 11 seasons in Japan, he hit .294 (1343×4573) with 631 runs scored, 65 triples and 262 stolen bases in 1,145 games.

Last season, Kawasaki batted .267 (161×603) in 144 games and helped lead the Softbank Hawks to their first Japan Series championship in eight years. He has 20 or more steals in eight of the past nine seasons, including a league-leading 42 in 2004.

“Being able to add a player with the resume that Kawasaki possesses is very good news for the Mariners,” said general manager Jack Zduriencik. “We are looking forward to having him compete for a major league position in spring training. He is a high-energy player with a record of success in Japan.”

Kawasaki was also a two-time member of Japan’s gold-medal-winning World Baseball Classic squad, and was the starting shortstop for Japan in the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

Mariners Offseason News/Transactions

  • Nov. 1: Announced Chris Gwynn had been named the organization’s Director of Player Development with the responsibility of overseeing all aspects of the Mariners minor league system.
  • Nov. 2: Outrighted INF Luis Rodriguez, who opted to become a free agent (Rodriguez appeared in 44 games for the Mariners in 2011).
  • Nov. 3: Outrighted LHP Anthony Vasquez to AAA Tacoma. Vasquez, 25, made seven starts for the Mariners in 2011, going 1-6 with an 8.90 ERA (29 ER, 29.1 IP).
  • Nov. 18: Added OF Chih-Hsien Chiang, INF Francisco Martinez and INF Carlos Triunfel to the 40-man roster.
  • Nov. 28: Named infielder/outfielder Vinnie Catricala (High Desert/Jackson) Minor League Player of the Year, RHP Taijuan Walker (Clinton) Pitcher of the Year and Arizona League trainer Randy Roetter Player Development Staff Member of the Year.
  • Dec. 2: Announced the 2012 minor league coaching staff, including returning managers Daren Brown (Tacoma), Jim Pankovits (Jackson) and Eddie Menchaca (Clinton); announced that Pedro Grifol, the Mariners director of minor league operations in 2011, will manage High Desert, that Jose Moreno will manage Pulaski after spending last season with High Desert, that Rob Mummau will take over as manager for Everett, and that Mike Kinkade will manage the Mariners in the Arizona League after coaching in Everett last season.
  • Dec. 12: Announced that RHP Dan Cortes and C Chris Gimenez would not be offered 2012 contracts.
  • Dec. 13: Signed 11 players to minor league contracts for the 2012 season, including OF Darren Ford, RHP Matt Fox, LHP Steve Garrison, RHP Jarrett Grube, LHP Sean Henn, RHP Josh Kinney, RHP Jeff Marquez, RHP Scott Patterson, C Guillermo Quiroz, INF Luis Rodriguez and LHP Phillippe Valiquette.
  • Jan. 30: Signed LHP George Sherrill, who previously pitched for the club from 2004-07, to a one-year contract.
  • Jan. 3: Hired Jeff Pentland as hitting coach of the Tacoma Rainiers.
  • Jan. 5: Signed Japanese right-handed pitcher Hisashi Iwakuma as a free agent.
  • Jan. 10: Signed right-handed pitcher Aaron Heilman to a minor league contract with an invite to major league spring training.
  • Jan. 11: Signed Japanese infielder Munenori Kawasaki to a minor league contract with an invite to spring training.

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