It's A Deal: Padres Send Irabu To Yanks

New York Gives R. Rivera, Medina And $3 Million For Rights To Japanese Pitcher

April 23, 1997|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

Japanese pitcher Hideki Irabu will realize his dream of pitching for the New York Yankees, who finally acquired his rights from the San Diego Padres yesterday.

The Yankees said they have traded promising outfielder Ruben Rivera, minor-league pitcher Rafael Medina and $3 million for the hard-throwing right-hander and three Padres minor-league prospects. Irabu is expected to sign a multi-year contract with the Yankees that could be worth as much as $5 million per year.

The trade must be approved by baseball's ruling Executive Council, but that is thought to be a formality. Yankees owner George Steinbrenner and Padres president Larry Lucchino confirmed the deal in a release issued by the Yankees.

The trade ends a four-month battle of wills between Irabu and the Padres, who acquired his rights when they signed a working agreement with the Chiba Lotte Marines of the Japanese Pacific League.

So how good is he?

Orioles outfielder Pete Incaviglia played the 1995 season with the Marines, and isn't surprised that several clubs were angling for a chance to sign Irabu, but he wouldn't predict how the right-hander will do in the United States.

"He has Roger Clemens-type stuff," Incaviglia said. "It's hard to predict what he will do, but he has a 95-98-mph fastball, an 80-88-mph slider and a [Hideo] Nomo forkball. He can be dominating at times, but he can also be a little wild."

Irabu, 27, insisted from the start that he had no interest in playing for the Padres and would rather sit out the 1997 season than pitch for anyone other than the Yankees. Lucchino opened negotiations with several teams -- including the Orioles -- but it came down to the Yankees and New York Mets, who reportedly offered prospects and $1.5 million in cash.

"We would have liked to have had him pitch for us this year, but once it became clear that he did not want to be here, it's funny how quickly that feeling became mutual," Lucchino said.

The Orioles made a legitimate attempt to acquire his rights, an indication that they thought he might be an impact player, but club officials did not bemoan their inability to keep him out of the Yankees' rotation.

"I think whenever the game can add a quality player, that's good for baseball," Orioles assistant general manager Kevin Malone said. "Of course, you don't want to have him pitching for your archrival. Look at the impact that Nomo had.

"Our reports on him were good, but he can't pitch against you every night, can he?"

Irabu was 12-6 with a 2.40 ERA last year. He has been compared with Nolan Ryan because of his 1,111 strikeouts in 1,101 2/3 innings in nearly nine full seasons. He had 645 during the last three seasons.

Mets manager Bobby Valentine, who managed the Marines in 1995, said Irabu is one of the 10 best pitchers in the world.

Yankees players and manager Joe Torre didn't exactly sound overwhelmed at the news.

"I've got no thoughts [about Irabu]," left-hander Andy Pettitte said, echoing the prevailing view among the players. "We'll just have to wait and see until he gets here."

Said Torre: "From the reports we get, he's been a starter and a good one, but I can't think that way until he's signed."

That could be a problem. Irabu's agent, Don Nomura, is expected to ask for about $15 million over three years for a pitcher who never has faced a batter in the major leagues.

The Padres wanted badly to sign Irabu, but they can't complain about the outcome.

They ended up with an outstanding outfield prospect -- Rivera was considered a Rookie of the Year candidate before he was sidelined in spring training with a right shoulder injury -- a decent pitching prospect and a big lump of cash. In return, they also sent minor-league second baseman Homer Bush and outfielders Gordon Amerson and Vernon Maxwell to the Yankees.

Pub Date: 4/23/97

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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