Impending NPB Free Agents
I’ve written a lot about the top three free agents coming out of NPB after this season, but there are several other lesser names that have been in the news as well. A thread on JapaneseBaseball.com listing a few has made the rounds to EastWindupChronicle and MLB Trade Rumors, and I’ve done some research and found a couple of other guys that have qualified since that list was published. Some of these players qualify under new rules that shorten the amount of service time required to attain free agency.
Fortunately the Japanese media doesn’t shy away from jumping the gun and speculating so let the hot-stove fun begin.
Tomohiro Nioka (INF, Yomiuri Giants): I’m not sure if Nioka will rack up the service time he needs to move internationally by the end of the season. He’s gotten some negative publicity over his extra-marital flirtation with a TV newscaster this season, so the Giants may be ready to move on from him.
Ryoji Aikawa (C, Yokohama BayStars): I don’t see him leaving Yokohama. Haven’t had much luck in finding media reports on his free agency.
Naoyuki Ohmura (CF, Softbank Hawks): Ohmura has stated publicly that he wants to try his hand at MLB. “I want to go,” says Ohmura, “life is short and you only get one chance at it.” Ohmura is a contact hitter with zero power. He can probably start for an NPB team that gets power from other positions, or be possibly be a 4th outfielder type in MLB. Think So Taguchi.
Ryota Igarashi (RP, Yakult Swallows): The hard-throwing reliever will carefully think over his options in the off-season. He’s eligible for domestic free agency, and he’s in his first year back from Tommy John surgery.
Akihiro Higashide (2B, Hiroshima Carp): Higashide made some comments that you don’t typically hear from Japanese players: “I’ve worked hard to reach free agency. This is the result of year after year of fighting to be my best. I have to put good results in this kind of year.” True to his words, Higashide is in the midst of a break-out season, third in the Central League with a .334 BA (career BA: .255). It looks like he’s qualified for domestic free agency; there is speculation that he could draw interest from Hanshin, Yomiuri, and Chunichi. I would hate to see Hiroshima lose yet another star.
Norihiro Nakamura (3B, Chunichi Dragons): “Not interested in other teams“ were his exact words. Has had two MLB flirtations and drama at Kintetsu/Orix before finally settling into a groove with Chunichi. I can’t see him anywhere else.
Most of these guys will probably stay put — such is free agency in NPB. But with a the new free agency rules and an uptick in trades, there is certainly more potential for movement than there has been in the past.