Cardinals tap Japan for outfielder Taguchi

Thursday, January 10, 2002

By Jim Salter ~ The Associated Press

ST. LOUIS -- The St. Louis Cardinals have turned to Japan to help fill a vacancy in the outfield, signing So Taguchi to a three-year contract, the team said Wednesday. Terms were not disclosed.

Taguchi, 32, will join American League MVP Ichiro Suzuki of the Seattle Mariners and Tsuyoshi Shinjo of the San Francisco Giants as the third Japanese position player to go to the major leagues.

Taguchi, a free-agent, said he turned down an offer from the Hanshin Tigers of Japan's professional leagues to play for St. Louis.

"I've decided to join the Cardinals and I'm looking forward to doing my best next season," he said.

Taguchi spent 10 seasons with the Orix BlueWave and was the team's top outfielder after Suzuki left for the Mariners last winter. He is considered one of the best-fielding outfielders in Japan, where he won five Golden Glove awards. He hit .280 with eight home runs and 42 RBIs in 134 games last season, and is a lifetime .277 hitter with 67 homers and 404 RBIs.

The New York Yankees, Arizona Diamondbacks and Texas Rangers were also interested in Taguchi, who was a member of Japan's national team at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney.

The Cardinals are set at two outfield positions with Jim Edmonds in center and J.D. Drew in right. Veteran outfielder Ray Lankford was traded at midseason to San Diego for pitcher Woody Williams.

Taguchi is expected to compete for the starting job in left field, along with Kerry Robinson, a rookie last season, utilityman Placido Polanco and backup catcher Eli Marrero, Cardinals spokesman Brian Bartow said.

Earlier in the offseason, the Cardinals signed free-agent closer Jason Isringhausen and free-agent first baseman Tino Martinez, who will replace the retired Mark McGwire at first. Manager Tony La Russa said that would mean that NL rookie of the year Albert Pujols will move back to third, his original position. Pujols played first base, third base and some outfield last season.

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