Lotte Marines flamethrower Roki Sasaki said Saturday he has expressed his desire to play in Major League Baseball since joining the Pacific League club, while both sides denied discord over that ambition delayed his 2024 contract signing.

The 22-year-old, who in 2022 became the youngest pitcher to throw a perfect game in Japan, agreed to terms Friday on his contract with Lotte for the upcoming season, just six days before the start of spring training.

"I have the desire to play in the U.S. major leagues in the future," Sasaki told a press conference. "I've been having proper communication with the club every year. I believe the club understands it too."

Roki Sasaki of the Lotte Marines speaks at a press conference after agreeing to terms for the upcoming season at Zozo Marine Stadium in Chiba, Japan, on Jan. 27, 2024. (Kyodo)

The agreement came amid reports he had demanded to move to MLB via the posting system before he turns 25, when the team would be unable to reap a huge transfer fee windfall.

The hard-throwing pitcher dodged a question about when he intended to move to MLB, saying, "For 2024, I believe it's important to play well in the season that's right in front of me."

Lotte executive Naoki Matsumoto said the agreement's delay was caused by factors that included negotiating through an intermediary and Sasaki's offseason practice schedule.

Matsumoto said there was no truth to reports of rancor, saying they sprang from the mistaken belief that Sasaki had only informed the Marines of his desire to play in MLB last year.

Sasaki said he was happy with the end result his agent negotiated.

"I left it up to my agent, who went over many matters meticulously with the team, and arrived at a contract both sides could be satisfied with," he said.

Sasaki turned pro with the Marines as their first draft pick in 2019 after Lotte won his negotiating rights in a four-way lottery. The right-hander developed into a world-class talent by 2022 and helped Japan win the 2023 World Baseball Classic.

Last year, when it appeared Sasaki might clear the 143 innings needed to qualify for an ERA title, he was sidelined by an oblique muscle injury in July that restricted him to just 15 total games and 91 innings.

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