Nakamura, Dodgers Agree to Terms

Japanese third baseman Norihiro Nakamura has agreed in principle on a minor-league contract with the Dodgers. The deal is expected to be announced at a news conference this afternoon (Thursday).

The contract calls for Nakamura to receive a $500,000 salary this season if he makes the major-league club during spring training, a 90-percent cut from his 2004 salary ($5 million) with the Kintetsu Buffaloes. He will alsoreceive an invitation to Major League Spring Training.

The Los Angeles Daily News reported the deal doesn't include an out clause if Nakamura doesn't make the team, an obvious sign he has agreed in advance to report to the Dodgers' Triple-A Las Vegas affiliate if he doesn't make the big-league club.

Nakamura, 31, was once one of Japan's most feared power hitters, swatting a career-high 46 in 2001 and following that with 42 in 2002 before falling off to 23 in 2003 and 19 in 2004. Nakamura has a lifetime average of .267 in 13 seasons with the Buffaloes.

Nakamura has long desired to play in the Major Leagues and backed out of a tentative two-year, $7 million deal with the New York Mets before the 2003 season. He is a five-time Japanese All-Star and four-time Gold Glove third baseman.

He spent about three weeks in spring training with the Dodgers last year while rehabilitating a knee injury but only saw action in three games, getting one his in four at-bats.

Even though he makes the major-league club, Nakamura isn't expected to be an everyday player. The Dodgers signed free-agent Jose Valentin to be their regular third baseman. Utility infielder Antonio Perez, who has never played the position, is expected to get regular work there during spring training and might see significant playing time during the season i a platoon with Valentin.

Nakamura will compete with Olmedo Saenz for a role as a backup corner infielder and right-handed pinch-hitter, although Saenz's $650,000 salary is guaranteed. Because of his defense, Nakamura also could play first base as a replacement for Hee-Seop Choi