After failing to sign with A’s last offseason, Hisashi Iwakuma will give MLB another try in 2012

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This winter Oakland secured exclusive negotiating rights with Japanese pitcher Hisashi Iwakuma by bidding $19 million, but that posting fee was refunded when the two sides couldn’t agree to a contract during a contentious negotiating process.

At the time Iwakuma’s agent, Don Nomura, publicly criticized the A’s on Twitter and via various media members, but now Jerry Crasnick of ESPN.com reports that he’s dropped Nomura and hired Paul Cobbe as his new agent with an eye toward giving MLB another shot this offseason.

Crasnick notes that because Iwakuma has now played 10 seasons in Japan he can become an outright free agent without the need for a bidding process, posting fee, or exclusive negotiating rights. In other words, he’ll simply hit the open market alongside other impending free agent pitchers.

Opinions vary on whether Iwakuma is capable of being a top-of-the-rotation starter in MLB or projects as more of a mid-rotation guy, but either way the 30-year-old right-hander will have no shortage of offers.

Phillies owner John Middleton is in Las Vegas with Bryce Harper

Bryce Harper
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Jim Salisbury of NBC Sports Philadelphia reports that Phillies owner John Middleton flew to Las Vegas for a meeting with Bryce Harper on Friday. Per ESPN’s Jeff Passan, it’s “more of a meet-and-greet than a sign-a-deal” affair, but as the club is still at the forefront of trade rumors involving the All-Star slugger, there remains a possibility (however slight) that something could be completed in the days to come.

Even now, the Phillies aren’t alone in the race to sign Harper, but recent rumors have helped whittle down the competition from five or more teams (Phillies, Nationals, White Sox, Giants, and Padres) to three strong contenders. The Giants are said to be interested in a lucrative short-term deal with the outfielder, while the Padres remain in the conversation despite inking Manny Machado to a mammoth 10-year, $300 million contract this week. It’s not yet clear just how far either team would go to outbid Philadelphia as talks with Harper intensify.

As for the Nationals and White Sox, the former officially bowed out earlier today, and MLB Network’s Jon Heyman adds that the latter won’t make a strong play for Harper as they feel the asking price and competing offers are “getting too high” for the 26-year-old’s services. If a mystery team is still in the mix, there’s been no word on their standing with Harper in the last month or so.