Archive > November 2008

Pirates Sign Rinku & Dinesh

» 24 November 2008 » In international baseball, mlb prospects » Comments Off

Update, Nov 24 Evening: I found a little more on these guys in this Indian publication. Kind of gives you a sense of what kind of background they’re coming from. Aaron and Jackson from EWC have posted scouting reports of the two as well.

Found on Yahoo! Japan: the Pirates have signed Indian pitchers Dinesh Patel and Rinku Singh. EastWindupChronicle had a detailed report on Patel and Singh earlier in the month. The two signed minor league contracts and will participate in the Pirates’ minor league camp next year.

Sure, this is outside of the normal scope of NPB Tracker, but it was reported in the Japanese media and I couldn’t pass up reporting on it. I really like seeing baseball expand in this kind of way.

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Not So Fast, Boston: Rangers Make Offer to Tazawa

» 24 November 2008 » In mlb prospects » 1 Comment

Just when it looked like the bidding war for Junichi Tazawa was going to end before it started, the Rangers stepped in and made things interesting. Texas director of Asia-Pacific scouting Jim Colborn met with Tazawa for nearly two hours, and reportedly made the best offer yet received. No details have been disclosed so far.

We now have reports on official offers from:

  • Atlanta
  • Boston
  • Seattle
  • Texas
Most published reports mention that Boston is still the favorite to land Tazawa, but reports that he’s already made up his mind may have been a little premature. Tazawa has been quoted as saying he wants to make a decision quickly. Judging by the press he doesn’t seem interested in Atlanta or Seattle.

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Details on Boston’s Offer to Tazawa

» 23 November 2008 » In mlb prospects » 12 Comments

Sponichi has published a detailed account of the contract Boston offered to Junichi Tazawa. The article also quotes  “They want me to come over, and I understand how I can develop. I feel like it’s a good team”. Nikkan Sports is reporting that Tazawa has already decided on the Red Sox, and says that he’ll be able to officially sign at the beginning of December.

Some highlights:

  • 3 year, $3M contract (that’s $1M/year)
  • Major League contract
  • start off at class AA
  • remain a starter
  • personal translator
The dollar figure is a little surprising — there were numerous reports of a $6M offer earlier in the day. Maybe there is a bonus or incentive package that was left off of this report. We’ll learn more over the next couple days.

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Yu Darvish Reiterates Lack of Interest in MLB, Dresses as a Bee

» 23 November 2008 » In npb » Comments Off

Remember Yu Darvish? Google Trends indicates that he’s been supplanted, probably temporarily, by Junichi Tazawa as the Next Big Thing out of Japan. I’m sure Darvish appreciates the break from the spotlight that Tazawa has afforded him.

Darvish got himself back in the news today over comments he made at the Nippon Ham Fighters’ Fan Festival. In an interview event, he told the crowd of 43K+, “I want to aim to win 200 games (in Japan). I’m not dreaming of the majors”. He’s already won 48 NPB games, so provided he stays healthy 200 wins is a very attainable goal. He also said that he will accept an invitation to play for Japan in the WBC.

During the event Darvish also donned bee costume for an obstacle course race against his teammates, and rode a tricycle, which kind of makes him the anti-Randall Simon. The article doesn’t say if he won or not. 

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Red Sox Offer Tazawa $6M

» 23 November 2008 » In mlb prospects » 5 Comments

Update: $6m figure was later contradicted. Please see this post.

Sanspo is reporting that Red Sox VP for international scouting Craig Shipley spent 1 hour 50 minutes negotiating with Junichi Tawaza, resulting in a $6M contract offer. No word on whether it’s a major league deal or not.

The Yomiuri has a brief mention of an offer from the Mariners, including appearance and innings-based incentives. If that’s true, I hope those incentives are a few years down the road as this is a 22 year-old kid who’s already been overworked by his industrial league team. The Indians and Tigers meetings with Tazawa made the Japanese news, but so far I haven’t seen any reports of contract offers from either team.

Tazawa’s Eneos career ended with a loss to JR Tokai in the final tournament of the amateur season. After pitching shutouts in the first two rounds of the tourney, Tazawa entered the semi-final game in the 7th inning with runners on first and second and the game tied 2-2. Tazawa gave up a single that scored what proved to be the winning run. The victorious JR Tokai went on to lose to Toyota in the final. (Here’s the Kyodo English-language writeup)

In the spirit of keepin’ it real, here’s a great article from Jim Allen, and a great response from Aaron Shinsano of East Windup Chronicle.

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Seven File For Free Agency

» 19 November 2008 » In mlb prospects, npb » 13 Comments

NPB’s free agency filing period ended on the 19th (JST) with seven players exercising their rights to become free agents. Unlike MLB, in NPB it’s not a given that players eligible for free agency will actually file. It’s actually the exception rather than the rule. It’s worth exploring why that is, but that’s a post for another day. For now, let’s take a look at the seven guys who filed and where they’ll wind up.

Koji Uehara (P, Yomiuri Giants): Written plenty on Uehara already. I see him going to the Cardinals as a swingman.

Kenshin Kawakami (P, Chunichi Dragons): Written about him too. I think he’ll sign with the Braves and fill a mid-rotation spot. 

Ken Takahashi (P, HIroshima Carp): Veteran lefty wants to try MLB. The Mets seem like a logical fit.

Ryoji Aikawa (C,  Yokohama BayStars): Wants to play in the majors, and has hired Alan Nero as his agent. Has already worked out for a couple of MLB teams. He’ll probably only command a minor league deal, so he’ll probably get a short with someone looking for organizational depth at catcher. Maybe Detroit. 

Daisuki Miura (P, Yokohama BayStars): Decided to test the market. Will discuss a move to the majors if it comes up. Hanshin is making a play for him, and I think that’s where he’ll wind up.

Toshihiro Noguchi (C, Hanshin Tigers): Veteran backup catcher is exploring his options. Hanshin seems resigned to him leaving. I think he’ll wind up with Yokohama to replace Aikawa.

Norihiro Nakamura (3B, Chunichi Dragons): Previously said that he wanted to finish his career with Chunichi, changed his mind when they only offered him a one-year deal and decided to move him off third. Rakuten and Nippon Ham are both interested in his services, but I’ll give Rakuten the edge in signing him.

These players are free to begin negotiating with teams from the 20th.

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Kawakami vs Kuroda

» 18 November 2008 » In mlb prospects » 8 Comments

When I see Kenshin Kawakami mentioned in an American blog or media report, it’s usually this context:

The Sox also have interest in Kenshin Kawakami, a 33-year-old righty for the Chunichi Dragons who went 9-5 with a 2.30 ERA last season. Kawakami is a Hiroki Kuroda-type pitcher with a cut fastball and good curveball who could man the No. 4 or 5 spot in the Sox rotation.

I normally interpret the comparison to Hiroki Kuroda as “not as good as Daisuke Matsuzaka, but better than Kei Igawa“. In addition to that, they’re both right-handed, about the same age, and have long track records of success in Japan’s Central League.

There are a couple of differences:

1. Kuroda is a fastball/slider/splitter pitcher, while Kawakami is mostly a fastball/cutter/curveball guy. Kuroda can reach the mid-90’s on his heater, while Kawakami sits in the low-90’s and relies a little more on movement and off-speed stuff.

2. Kawakami has spent his career with a usually competitive Chunichi Dragons team, while Kuroda spent his career with the perennial also-ran Hiroshima Carp. Kawakami has had a consistently outstanding infield defense behind him for his NPB career, while I don’t think the same can be said of the Carp defense. Kawakami has also pitched in more big games.

3. Kuroda pitched his home games in Japan at the tiny Hiroshima Municipal Stadium, while Kawakami enjoyed the much larger dimensions of the Nagoya Dome.

With the above three points noted, I’d say that Kawakami is a slightly worse MLB prospect than Kuroda was last year, but let’s test that assumption with some performance data. This will be a simplistic analysis, but hopefully it will provide a better insight into Kawakami as a prospect.

Using stats from the excellent Data League site (Japanese, works best in Internet Explorer), I put together some simple comparisons to try to isolate the differences between the two pitchers. I looked at the period between 1998-2007, tossing out Kuroda’s 1997 because Kawakami hadn’t started his career yet and 2008 because the two pitchers were in different leagues.

ERA Trends

Kuroda’s DIPSera was pretty consistent his last few years in Japan, but his actual ERA varied widely, which is probably the result of an inconsistent defense. Kawakami, on the other hand, has put up consistent DIPSera and ERA numbers.

K/BB Trending

This one surprised me. Kawakami matched Kuroda on strikeout rate consistently in Japan, and bested him in ’06 and ’07. Both pitchers have done a good job improving on their control as they gained experience.

If anything, this and the previous chart point out that Kuroda was coming off a relatively poor season by his standards in ’07. Kawakami, on the other hand will be coming off a much better 2008 season statistically, though he did miss time due to minor injuries and the Olympics.

It’s easy to favor Kuroda as a pitcher because of his stuff (I do), but Kawakami has been a consistent performer over the last eight years. Should Kawakami pursue a career in MLB (and I think he will), his performance will obviously depend on where he winds up. But if he can continue to keep the ball down in the zone and miss bats with his breaking stuff, I see no reason why he can’t be an effective mid-rotation starter.

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NPB Bullet Points (2008/11/14)

» 14 November 2008 » In mlb, mlb prospects » 2 Comments

Japanese news from the usual sources for today.

Japanese Articles:

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Nakamura, Nioka Traded

» 13 November 2008 » In npb » 5 Comments

Update, Nov 13: The Yomiuri Online is reporting that the deal will be officially announced on the 14th

As had been rumored, the Nippon Ham Fighters have agreed to send star closer Micheal Nakamura to the Yomiuri Giants for infielder Tomohiro Nioka in a four player trade. The Fighters also acquired reliever Masanori Hayashi and threw outfielder Takahito Kudoh into the deal.

At first glance, I like this deal a lot better for the Giants. They got an All-Star level closer in exchange for Nioka, who was clearly on his way out after his scandalous affair with newscaster Mona Yamamoto earlier in the season. The Giants reached game 7 of the Japan Series without a significant contribution from Nioka, and he was looking like a spare part for next season, scandal or no scandal.

The move improves an already strong Kyojin bullpen. The Giants have already announced their intent to excercise closer Marc Kroon’s option, so Nakamura will most likely move into a setup role.

The Fighters are hoping to add some much-needed offense in Nioka, and retain some bullpen depth with Hayashi, but both guys are coming of injuries and Nippon Ham is taking a chance that they’ll be able to return to form. I’m surprised they couldn’t get more for Nakamura.

In a minor, unrelated move, the Giants sent slick-fielding utility infielder Makoto Kosaka to Rakuten to for cash.

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Free Agent Watch: Ken Takahashi

» 12 November 2008 » In mlb prospects » Comments Off

The next guy on the free agent market to watch is Hiroshima Carp veteran lefty Ken Takahashi. Takahashi had been weighing a move to the majors pretty much all season, and has now decided to go for it and file for free agency. Here’s a quote from JapanBall:

”It has been a wish of mine to play in America after qualifying for free agency,” said Takahashi, who went 8-5 with Hiroshima this season.

”American baseball is a different world. I’d like to start off by getting one win over there. I’ll need energy to challenge at my age but it is just a case of believing in myself,” the 39-year-old 
said. ”There aren’t that many left-handers over there either and that would be a plus for me.”

Takahashi enjoyed a resurgent season for the surprisingly competitive Carp, going 8-5 with a 3.50 ERA in 115 2/3 innings. The Carp will certainly miss his presence in the rotation, but team ownership has already promised him a home after he comes back.

Takahashi will be 40 next April, so there will be inevitable comparisons to Masumi Kuwata, who joined the Pirates at age 38 after a long career in Japan. The big difference is that Takahashi is coming off a good season, while Kuwata had been washed up for a couple of years when he moved over. I expect Takahashi to get a major league contract.

The Mets have already been mentioned as a potential suitor, which isn’t a surprise given that they need pitching and have signed a number of Japanese players over the years. Surprisingly they like him as a starter. Nikkan Sports reports that the Cubs, Padres, and Giants are interested, and quotes a Cubs scout as saying Takahashi could be used out of the bullpen and as an emergency starter. This makes a lot more sense to me given Takahashi’s age and recent workload.

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