Hideki Okajima released by Japanese team so he can return to MLB

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Hideki Okajima has been granted his release by the Softbank Hawks in Japan so that the 37-year-old reliever can pursue his plan of returning to MLB.

Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle reported yesterday that the A’s are among the teams interested in Okajima, who played five seasons for the Red Sox before heading back to Japan last year.

Okajima fell out of favor in Boston, spending most of 2011 in the minors, but he posted a 3.11 ERA for the Red Sox overall and had a 0.94 ERA in Japan last season after a minor-league deal with the Yankees was canceled due to shoulder problems.

Red Sox sign Christian Vazquez to three-year, $13.55 million extension

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The Red Sox signed catcher Christian Vazquez to a three-year, $13.55 million extension, per a team announcement on Saturday. The agreement will keep Vazquez under contract through the 2021 season and covers two years of arbitration eligibility and the catcher’s first year of free agency. It comes with a $7 million club option (and $250,000 buyout) for 2022 that could get bumped up to $8 million if he reaches 502 plate appearances in both 2020 and 2021. Vazquez has also volunteered to make an annual donation to the Red Sox Foundation as part of his new arrangement with the club.

The 27-year-old backstop is entering his fourth year with the Red Sox in 2018. He’s been a steady defender behind the dish over the last three years and was ranked fifth-best in defense among all American League catchers at the end of the 2017 season. He also enjoyed a breakout performance at the plate, slashing a career-best .290/.330/.404 with five home runs and a .735 OPS in 345 plate appearances.

Come Opening Day, Vazquez is expected to be the Red Sox’ primary option behind the plate, with veteran Sandy Leon and Blake Swihart poised to start in backup roles. Swihart is out of options, but has been groomed for a utility role this spring and could take a few reps in the left field and the infield corners if need be, as it doesn’t appear the club is prepared to trade him just yet.