Japan's greatest relief pitcher now will get a chance to prove himself in the United States. Kazuhiro Sasaki, the career saves leader in Japan, signed a two-year contract yesterday with the Mariners.

Financial terms weren't disclosed. The Mariners hold a club option for a third year.

Sasaki, 31, had 229 saves in 10 seasons for Yokohama in Japan's Central League.

"The Mariners recognize that Sasaki is the greatest relief pitcher in the history of Japanese baseball, and one of the very best in the world," Mariners CEO Howard Lincoln said during a news conference in Kyoto. "He has tremendous talent, is a great competitor and will strengthen our bullpen immediately."

The 6-foot-4 right-hander had his best season in 1998, when he set the Japanese single-season record with 45 saves, had a 0.64 ERA and led the BayStars to the Japan Series title.

Last season, he was 1-1 with 19 saves and a 1.93 ERA. He missed most of the second half of the season following elbow surgery.

"I will do my best to contribute to winning a championship for the Mariners," Sasaki said.

Mariners principal owner Hiroshi Yamauchi, president of Japanese software maker Nintendo Co., also attended the news conference along with team president Chuck Armstrong.

Sasaki reportedly also talked with the Diamondbacks, Mets and Yankees before choosing the Mariners.

* MORE RELIEF: The Pirates signed right-handed reliever Marc Wilkins (2-3, 4.24 ERA) to a one-year, $750,000 contract.

Wilkins, who earned $600,000 last season and was signed Friday, thought he would not be offered a contract because the Pirates were trimming their payroll. His concerns were alleviated somewhat when reliever Brad Clontz was traded to Arizona on Monday.

"I had heard that the Pirates were strapped and were looking for ways to save money," Wilkins said. "I'm very happy to be back. That was what I wanted all along."

Wilkins was 2-3 with an 4.24 ERA in 46 appearances last season. He struck out 44 and walked 26 in 51 innings.

Pitchers Rich Loiselle and Chris Peters remain unsigned. They will become free agents if they are not offered contracts by Monday.