"We have been following Kei Igawa's very successful and accomplished career in Japan," general manager Brian Cashman said in a statement. "We are excited about the opportunity to begin the negotiating process with him."
Yankees owner George Steinbrenner released a brief statement from his home in Tampa through his spokesman, Howard Rubenstein.
"I'm very pleased to have received the rights to negotiate an agreement with Igawa," Steinbrenner said.
The Yankees have 30 days to come to terms with Igawa, who is represented by Arn Tellem. The Yankees and Tellem have a solid working relationship, as the agent also represents Hideki Matsui, Mike Mussina and Jason Giambi.
"I am delighted the New York Yankees were able to secure the negotiating rights for Kei Igawa," Tellem said in an e-mail. "Having played with the Hanshin Tigers, Igawa is very familiar with being a part of a great team with a rich tradition.
"Throughout the years, I have enjoyed an excellent working relationship with the Yankees and look forward to completing successful negotiations on behalf of Igawa," the agent continued. "It will be an honor for me to help put him in pinstripes for the 2007 season."
Igawa, a 27-year-old left-hander, has a record of 86-60 and a 3.15 ERA in eight seasons with the Tigers of the Central League. He won the league's MVP award in 2003, posting a 20-5 record and 2.80 ERA in 29 starts.
"The Hanshin Tigers are a well respected and successful organization, and I've heard from a number of people about how devoted their fans are," Cashman said. "I'm confident that if we are successful in bringing Mr. Igawa to the Bronx, the Yankees' organization along with our passionate and diverse fan base can provide the same type of commitment and excitement that he has become so accustomed to."
"Igawa is one of the best pitchers in Japan, so there was little doubt that he would attract bids," Hanshin president Toshihiro Makita told Kyodo News. "I believe the fact that he got an offer from a Major League team shows what he is. And we had intended to welcome a bid since the beginning of this process if it was acceptable to us."
The Yankees' winning bid comes one day after New York re-signed Mussina to a two-year, $23 million contract. Igawa would join Mussina, Chien-Ming Wang, Randy Johnson and Carl Pavano in the Yankees' starting rotation if he signs with New York.
Igawa, who features a 90-mph fastball and an above-average curveball, went 14-9 with a 2.97 ERA last season, striking out 194 batters to tie for the league lead. It was the third time he has won the Central League's strikeout title, also doing so in 2002 and 2004.
Former big-league manager Bobby Valentine, who currently manages the Chiba Lotte Marines in the Pacific League, has seen his share of Igawa over the past four years. He believes that while Igawa is a solid starter, he isn't in the same class as Matsuzaka.
"I favor left-handers anywhere in the world," Valentine said during the MLB-Japan All-Star Series earlier this month. "The first time I saw him, I thought he was a lot better; four years ago, he was a lot better than he is now. But he's still good."
Igawa is the third Japanese player posted this winter, joining Matsuzaka and infielder Akinori Iwamura, whose rights were acquired by the Devil Rays for about $4.5 million.