Now, the Pirates have their eye especially on Japan.
Japan is certainly not an untapped baseball market in the way that South Africa and India are, but it's a fertile baseball area that the Pirates hadn't explored all that heavily and seriously before general manager Neal Huntington made doing so a priority in recent years.
The Pirates have one full-time scout dedicated to the countries in the Far East, though one of the organization's best resources might not even be a set of scouting eyes. It could very well be second baseman and Japanese-native Akinori Iwamura, whom the Pirates acquired in a trade with Tampa Bay last week.
As Huntington noted on Friday, the hope is that the acquisition of Iwamura further puts Pittsburgh on the radar of Japanese players looking to play professional baseball in the U.S.
In identifying specific Japanese targets that the Pirates may have, one Japanese media outlet recently quoted Huntington as saying that the club has interest in right-handed reliever Ryota Igarashi. Igarashi is one of 87 Japanese players that became eligible for free agency this week.
Huntington would not confirm that Igarashi was on the club's offseason wish list, but the Pirates GM did use the opportunity to again emphasize the organization's interest in Japanese players in a more general sense.
"We have interest in a lot of relievers," Huntington said. "We have interest in players from Japan. We hope that Iwamura opens some further doors in Japan, but it may not be this year and it may not even be next year."
Even if the Pirates won't publically address their level of interest in Igarashi, it would make sense that he has caught the organization's eye. The 30-year-old righty has a fastball clocked in the upper-90s and another three pitches in his repertoire. He appeared in 56 games, mostly in middle relief, in 2009 and finished 3-2 with a 3.19 ERA.
Furthermore, the Pirates are in search of some relief help and Igarashi could come at a reasonable price. However, Huntington steadfastly disagrees with signing free-agent relievers to hefty contracts because of the unpredictability of their performance from year to year, so if enough teams become interested in Igarashi and his price tag ticks too high, the Pirates might not make a serious run at the right-hander.
It is also worth noting that Igarashi and Iwamura have played together before, so that could be a selling point if the Pirates do decide to pursue him.
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.Less