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Japan’s Kawasaki could help Mariners as a utility player

SEATTLE – While the baseball world waits anxiously to see where superstar pitcher Yu Darvish lands, the Mariners are on the verge of acquiring a different Japanese player.

Shortstop Munenori Kawasaki doesn’t have the high profile of Darvish, a potential ace pitcher who could fetch close to (or more than) $100 million between posting fee and salary.

Unlike Darvish, who went through the posting system, Kawasaki is a complete free agent because of his service time in Japan.

Kawasaki could be a useful player for the Mariners, most likely in a utility role. He and his wife are in Seattle this week, and sources say he will sign a minor-league contract with a spring-training invitation. The signing might not be announced until after the holidays.

Kawasaki’s impending union with the Mariners is hardly a surprise, considering he said a at a news conference in Fukuoka two weeks ago that the only MLB team he would play for is the Mariners.

The lure for him is a chance to play with his idol and mentor, Ichiro Suzuki. They were twice teammates in the World Baseball Classic, and share the same agent, Tony Attanasio.

Kawasaki, 30, hits left-handed, like Ichiro, and is said to have a similar “slap and run” batting style.

He hit .267 in 2011 for the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks, who won the Japan Series championship.

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