According to Nikkan Sports (via MLBTR), the Softbank Hawks of Japan has released former Red Sox Hideki Okajima so that the reliever can pursue opportunities back in MLB. Okajima registered a 0.94 ERA over 47 2/3 innings of work while featuring 6.8 K/9 and 1.1 BB/9 ratios. The lefty actually had a higher K/9 ratio during his four seasons with the Red Sox, although the higher level of competition led to a career ERA of 3.11. A shoulder injury on his pitching arm side prevented Okajima from attempting to continue his MLB career via a minor league deal with the rival Yankees, hence the return to Japan to pitch for Softbank.
The early word is that the Oakland Athletics have interest in securing the southpaw’s services. The lack of other teams knocking down Okajima’s door would make it reasonable that the Japanese lefty figures to find a minor league offer and an invite to Spring Training at best. Considering Theo Epstein’s familiarity with Okajima from his days in Boston, it would not be out of the question for the Cubs to pursue the former Softbank Hawk.
Apr 26, 2011; Baltimore, MD, USA; Boston Red Sox relief pitcher Hideki Okajima (37) pitches in the seventh inning against the Baltimore Orioles at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. The Orioles defeated the Red Sox 4 – 1. Mandatory Credit: Joy R. Absalon-USA TODAY Sports
The 37 year old lefty could help fellow countryman Kyuji Fujikawa adjust to MLB and life in America. As for the Cubs bullpen, it currently only features one veteran left hander in the form of James Russell. Unless Chris Rusin and Brooks Raley are shifted to relief duty, the pitching depth in terms of southpaws is thin to say the least. The Cubs would certainly be addressing that need by signing Okajima, age and durability in the Majors be damned. A minor league deal would not impact the current 40 man roster that already has Scott Hairston in a holding pattern.
This is exactly the type of low risk, higher reward opportunity that Epstein and Company have known to thrive on.