Archive > December 2008

Interview with SNY.tv

» 19 December 2008 » In NPB Tracker » Comments Off

Ted Berg published an interview with me on SNY.tv today. Here’s the link.

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Cardinals Sign Japanese Pitcher

» 19 December 2008 » In mlb prospects » 4 Comments

Nope, not Kenshin Kawakami, Koji Uehara or Takashi Saito. Sponichi is reporting that the Cardinals signed for Kintetsu Buffaloe Katsuhiko Maekawa to a minor league deal. You might remember that Maekawa lost his job in Japan over a drunk driving hit and run driving incident (and not pitching very well), played in the Domican Winter League, signed a deal with the Nationals, and then finally couldn’t get a US work visa. He never actually played in the Nats’ system, hopefully he’ll get a shot with the Cards.

Maekawa is in the Venezuelan Winter League this year where he’s put up pretty unimpressive numbers: 0-2, 6.39 era in 4 appearances.

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Daisuke Yamashita to Coach in Dodgers System

» 18 December 2008 » In nichibei » 2 Comments

Don Wakamatsu won’t be the only coach breaking new ground in 2009; the Dodgers have hired former Yokohama BayStars manager Daisuke Yamashita to coach in their minor league system. From what I gather, Yamashita will spend most of his time at the rookie ball level in Arizona. JapanBall has the English-language Kyodo write-up of the news, but but I think their translation of his quote misses the eloquence of his original comment in Japanese. So I translated it myself:

“I played US-Japan college baseball at Dodger Stadium, and 35 years later I have another bond with the Dodgers. This time, I want to be an asset to the young players aiming for an American Dream.”

The only other former Japanese player/coach that has coached in an MLB organization is Denney Tomori. Denney pitched in the Boston organization in 2005 and re-joined the team after retiring, but I saw conflicting reports on whether he was a roving minor league pitching coach or a scouting advisor. Other coaches have spent short-term “foreign study” programs with US teams as well.

Good luck to Yamashita on his new position, and kudos to the Dodgers for thining outside the box with this hire.

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New Entrent in Kawakami Derby: Minnesota

» 16 December 2008 » In mlb, mlb prospects » 8 Comments

The race for Kenshin Kawakami is heating up — Sponichi is reporting that the Twins and Giants are getting into the chase. The market for Kawakami has predictably built up with the signings of CC Sabathia and AJ Burnett, which frees up the Braves and Giants to get involved.

Dan Evans lists three reasons for Kawakami’s popularity:

  1. They’re open to talking to all 30 teams, without concern for the team’s home park or how strong they are.
  2. The acquiring team doesn’t have to worry about losing a draft pick for signing Kawakami.
  3. Kawakami hasn’t had any major breakdowns over the last few years.

I think point #2 needs to be changed — MLB teams pay compensation to each other for acquiring free agents; so do NPB teams. Some kind of rights transfer compensation seems appropriate for players moving from NPB to MLB as well.

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Chunichi Acquires Minor Leaguers

» 16 December 2008 » In npb » 2 Comments

Sanspo has reported that Chunichi signed two minor leaguers: infielder Tony Blanco and lefty pitcher Nelson Payano. Blanco, who has MLB experience with the Nationals, will earn $300k, while Payano will make $150k. Both players were in 2a last year, which is a little bit of a departure for Japan as NPB teams usually sign fringey MLB players. Chunichi had scouted the Domican Winter League with the intent of signing instructional players, but these guys appear to be headed for the regular roster.

This isn’t the first time the Dragons are making this type of low-risk on foreign born prospects. Maximo Nelson, who played in Nagoya in 2008, is an interesting case. He’d never pitched above rookie ball in America and spent 2007 playing in Israel, but did make a couple of appearances for the top team in ’08. I’m not sure if he’ll be back with the Dragons next year or not.

Another development case is Aarom Baldiris, whom Hanshin acquired out of 2a before last season. Baldiris got quite a few at-bats with the Tigers and they seemed to really like him. He’ll be back for ’09.

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Offers for Kawakami

» 15 December 2008 » In mlb prospects » Comments Off

Kenshin Kawakami’s agent, Dan Evans has been quoted in Hochi Sports as saying that he has official offers from “more than one team”.

Baltimore, Boston, Anaheim and Atlanta have all be in on Kawakami so far. I like Atlanta as the best fit for him. Upate: forgot to mention the Giants and Brewers have also been reported as interested. I still think the Braves make the most sense.

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The Effects of NPB Players Leaving for MLB, part 3

» 14 December 2008 » In nichibei » Comments Off

Here’s the last piece of the player-by-player analysis portion of the series. Please check out parts 1 and 2 as well.

Part four will draw some conclusions from a big picture level.

2003

Hideki Matsui (OF, Giants -> Yankees): Turned down what would have been the largest contract in NPB history in 2000 (8 years,  6bn yen($60M)) to take a one-year contract, citing his goal of eventually playing in MLB. He eventually did after the 2002 season, and the Giants went from sweeping the Japan Series to finishing in 3rd place (71-66-3). Yomiuri had another 3rd place finish in 2004, then unthinkable consecutive sub-.500 finishes in ’05 and ’06 before finally recovering in 2007. The Giants made it back to the Japan Series in 2008, six years after Matsui’s departure. They had played in four Japan Series’ in the 10 years Matsui spent with the team (’94, ’96, ’00, ’02), winning three times. The team’s popularity took a hit as well.

So what went wrong? Yomiuri had a pretty weak strategy in replacing Matsui: they signed former Yakult 1st baseman Roberto Petagine and played him in right field, moving Yoshinobu Takahashi to center. Petagine played decent defense at first but was never mobile enough for right field, nor did he have the arm for it. Takahashi said he never felt comfortable in center, and obviously didn’t trust Petagine in right.

Things got worse when manager Tatsunori Hara left and was replaced with grouch Tsuneo Horiuchi. The Giants core offensive threats of Kazuhiro Kiyohara, Akira Etoh, Toshihisa Nishi, and Takayuki Shimizu and pitchers Kimiyasu Kudoh, Masumi Kuwata, Yusaku Iriki, and Koji Uehara all became old and/or ineffective at the same time. The team cycled through replacements like Gabe Kapler, Hiroki Kokubo, Tuffy Rhodes, and Jeremy Powell before finally assembling a team that worked in 2007.

Impact:Huge. No single player’s departure has had a greater effect on his former team than Matsui has had on the Giants. Yomiuri was probably headed for a downturn anyway, but the loss of Matsui certainly prolonged the team’s lean years.

2002

Kazuhisa Ishii (SP, Swallows -> Dodgers): Yakult posted Ishii after winning the Japan Series in 2001, and got about $11m from the Dodgers. Kevin Hodges took Ishii’s place at the top of the Swallows’ rotation and the team went from a 78-56-6 record in ’01 to a 74-62-4 record and 2nd place finish in ’02, 11 games behind the Giants. Had Ishii been around, the race might have been tighter but Yakult was still probably would have been a 2nd place team. Hodges posted a 5.90 era in 2004, and Yakult fell further.

Ishii returned to Yakult in 2006, but the team had faded into an also-ran by then. He left after 2007 for Seibu.

Impact: Medium. $11m was a good return for Ishii. Yakult may have been able to remain competitive for a little longer if he had stuck around, but that was an aging team.

So Taguchi (OF, Blue Wave -> Cardinals): Surprisingly, Orix mananged to maintain a solid record the year after Ichiro was posted, but fell from 70-66-4 to 50-87-3 after Taguchi left. Taguchi’s presence was never worth 20 games in the standings; the team’s offense tanked completely in 2002.

Impact: Low. Taguchi was actually a pretty average player in japan. He really improved his game in his time in America.

Satoru Komiyama (SP/RP, BayStars -> Mets): Yokohama dropped from 69-67-4 to 49-86-5 after Komiyama left. While the ‘Stars missed Komiyama’s 12-9 record and 3.03 era, I would say that Yokohama’s weak offense was more responsible for the team’s meteoric drop.

Komiyama didn’t perform at the MLB level, and returned to Japan after one season. Yokohama still owned his NPB rights, but refused to sign him to a contract for the 2003 season. After a “ronin” year, the BayStars finally released him and he re-joined the Chiba Lotte Marines, his original team. He’s been there ever since.

Impact: Low. Given the way Yokohama treated him, it didn’t seem that they wanted him back. They could have traded him to another NPB team and gotten some value back, so to me it was a case of the team cutting off it’s nose to spite it’s face. In general I’m a fan of Komiyama’s and I think he could have added some stability to Yokohama’s staff and mentored the team’s young pitchers. In that sense, it’s a big loss for Yokohama, but not one that I attribute to his MLB trial.

2001

Ichiro (OF, Blue Wave -> Mariners): This one needs no introduction. Orix posted Ichiro after the 2000 and Seattle won his rights with a $14m bid. I was living in Japan at the time, and it was such big, exciting news. It seemed like just announcing his move to MLB made him a bigger star than he already was.

Orix appeared in Japan Series’ in 1995 and 1996, but were a .500 team for the last few years of his tenure. The Blue Wave maintained it’s .500 record the year after Ichiro was posted, but fell apart in 2002. The team stunk again in 2003, and mid-way through 2004 announced that it would merge with the Kintetsu Buffaloes. The new Orix Buffaloes took the field in 2005 with a group of guys taken in the in the Orix/Kintetsu dispersal draft, and ranged from doormat to also-ran until their surpring 2008 campaign.

Orix’s popularity at the gate was flagging even with Ichiro, and his departure didn’t make things any better. The team suffered from the inconveniently located Green Stadium Kobe, and the proximity of the popular Hanshin Tigers. The post-merger team plays most of it’s home games in Osaka Kyocera Dome, which is a shame because Green Stadium is much nicer and was easily my favorite place to watch a game in Japan. For me, the old Blue Wave had a level of charm that the post-merger team lacks completely.

Impact: Medium. Everyone knew Ichiro was going to America at some point, and Orix did the right thing in posting him. I would argue that Ichiro’s MLB success is better for Japanese baseball than if he stayed and broken every NPB record. Orix’s competitiveness and popularity took a dive without Ichiro, but this was inevitable.

Tsuyoshi Shinjo (OF, Tigers -> Mets): Shinjo turned down a four-year offer from Hanshin to take a one-year minor league deal from the Mets. The Tigers felt no impact in the win column, going from a 57-78-1 record to 57-80-3. Hanshin backfilled Shinjo by drafting Norihiro Akahoshi, who has been the team’s center fielder ever since. Akahoshi has never had any power, but he has better on-base skills than Shinjo ever did and has won multiple Gold Gloves.

As a side note, Shinjo announced his move around the same time as Ichiro did. Though his move was viewed with some skepticism, he proved he could play at the MLB level, which helped inspire a wider range of players to make the jump across the Pacific.

Impact: Low. Hanshin built a balanced team after Shinjo left and has been competitve since 2002. Shinjo held his own at the MLB level, played in the 2002 World Series, and then returned to Japan to help build Nippon Ham into a competitive, popular franchise. I’d say this one worked out well for all parties.

That’s it for the player-by-player analysis. Anyone I missed? Anyone disagree with my assessments?

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Free Agency Watch: Kawakami, Takahashi, Saito

» 13 December 2008 » In mlb » 11 Comments

Today’s free agency updates…

  • In a reversal of previously published reports, Mets GM Omar Minaya was quoted in Hochi Sports as saying he’s basically thinking of Koji Uehara as a starter, and will negotiate with him as such. Hochi also said the Red Sox are interested, which is the first time I’ve seen them explicitly linked to Uehara.
  • Ken Takahashi’s representatives have talked to about 90% of the MLB teams, and 10 have shown interest. The Mets are favored at this point, and Takahashi wants to decide on a destination by year’s end if possible.

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Hiroshima Closing in on Scott Dohmann

» 13 December 2008 » In npb » 1 Comment

Sponichi is reporting that the Hiroshima Carp are close to acquiring Rays’ reliever Scott Dohmann. Dohmann has 166 strikeouts in 172 2/3 career innings, but has also have a 1.598 career whip. The Carp would use him as a set-up man.

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Igawa on the Move?

» 12 December 2008 » In mlb » 9 Comments

Update, Dec 12: Sanspo is now reporting that a deal to the Brewers is ‘imminent’. The scenario put forth has Igawa included with Melky Cabrera in exchange for Mike Cameron. Bleacher Report disagrees though. Sanspo also says that the Yankees were trying to trade Igawa to Detroit for money.

Sanspo is reporting that Yankees are making progress in trade discussions involving Kei Igawa. Sanspo is calling out the Tigers as the most interested party, but they may just be enjoying the fact that Igawa is a former Hanshin Tiger. Igawa was decent in AAA in 2008, but the $12m he is still owed over the next three years is the stumbling block for an acquiring team.

Igawa is not the Yanks’ 40-man roster, and thus eligible for the rule 5 draft. Selecting him would require the acquiring team to keep him on their big league roster all year, or offer him back to New York (I think they’d probably let him go).

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