Archive > December 2008

10 Years for Aoki?

» 04 December 2008 » In npb » 1 Comment

When I first read this in Sanspo, I dismissed it as speculation. Then I saw it in Nikkan Sports and gave it a little more thought. 

The Yakult Swallows are apparently willing to consider a long term contract for star centerfielder Norichika Aoki — perhaps as much as ten years. Said team administrator Katsutoshi Oki: “If he says it himself we’ll consider it (a long term contract). Even 10 years.” When asked to respond, Aoki commented, “I’m happy to be a player they’ll say that about. I’ll think it over carefully from now”. 

I doubt anything will come of this, but in a sense it’s good that Yakult is willing to offer a long-term deal. Aoki is almost certainly the best hitter in Japan right now, and Yakult refused to post him a few years ago. Though obviously the Swallows won’t pay anything near what he would command in MLB, at least they are outwardly willing to commit to their star players. Signing a deal that runs at least until Aoki qualifies for free agency would make sense for both sides.

Korean righthander Sung-Min Cho holds the record for longest NPB contract, with his eight-year deal with Yomiuri that ran from 1996-2003.  Nobuhiko Matsunaka holds the record for Japanese players with his seven-year contract with SoftBank, signed after the 2006 season. The Giants offered Hideki Matsui an eight-year, ¥6bn ($60m) contract after the 2000 season, but he turned it down citing a desire to play in the bigs.

And just for fun, here’s a clip of Aoki’s entrance video, some defensive highlights, and every home run he hit in 2006.

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The Effects of NPB Players Leaving for MLB, part 2

» 03 December 2008 » In nichibei » 3 Comments

Part two of the series… take a look at part one here.

Part three will look at players that came over from 2001-03, and part four will draw some conclusions from the culmination of the last eight years of player movement.


Takashi Saito (RP, BayStars -> Dodgers): Saito explored a move to the majors after the 2002 season, but didn’t get a satisfactory offer and returned to Yokohama. After three more mediocre seasons by the bay, he decided to give the majors another shot and signed a minor league deal with the Dodgers. He didn’t make the team out of spring training, but got promoted when Eric Gagne was injured and has never looked back. 

Yokohama, meanwhile, has bounced back and forth between near-.500 respectability (2005, 2007) and Central League doormat (2006, 2008). I’m sure Westbaystars-san can better explain why Yokohama has been so manic recently. 

Impact: Low. I don’t think anyone saw Saito’s success in LA coming, as he had never put up such dominant numbers in Japan (MLB K rate: 11.63; NPB K rate 7.63). The impact would have been much greater if Yokohama had been able to get the best out of Saito.

Kenji Johjima (C, Hawks -> Mariners): While SoftBank survived the loss of Tadahito Iguchi, Johjima’s last year in Fukuoka would be the last of the Hawks dynasty that saw five Pacific League 1st place finishes, three Japan Series appearances and two Japan Series Championships between 1999-2005. The team effectively re-tooled around an talented, though inconsistent, rotation featuring Kazumi Saito, Toshiya Sugiuchi, Tsuyoshi Wada, and Nagisa Arakaki, but couldn’t replicate the success of the earlier offense-led dynasty. The Hawks have finished 3rd, 3rd, and 6th in the three years since Johjima’s departure.

Other factors have played roles in SoftBank’s regression — injuries to the pitching staff, sub-par production from guys like Nobuhiko Matsunaka and Hiroshi Tamura, manager Sadaharu Oh’s bout with cancer — but I would suggest that the absence of Johjima’s stabilizing presence behind the plate and in the order had the largest impact.

Impact: High. SoftBank lost an excellent defensive catcher and a mid-lineup slugger that they still haven’t replaced. The Hawks seemed unprepared for Johjima’s departure, as they never seemed to have a reliable backup for him while he was there. SoftBank drafted independent league catcher Hayato Doue in the instructional round of the 2008 draft, so maybe he’ll develop into a decent offensive or defensive catcher.


Tadahito Iguchi (2B, Hawks -> White Sox): The old Daiei management made two moves in the 2004 offseason that significantly weakened their team without getting anything in return. First, they released Iguchi from his contract so that he could pursue an MLB career. Daiei also “traded” star 3B Hiroki Kokubo to Yomiuri for nothing. Yes, nothing. Daiei then got out of the baseball business with the sale of the Hawks to SoftBank.

The departure of Iguchi didn’t have an immediate effect on the Hawks, as they took their third straight 1st place Pacific League finish with an outstanding 89-45-2 record. For the second straight year, however, they lost in the playoffs and failed to reach the Japan Series. Jolbert Cabrera was signed to fill in for Iguchi until reinforcements arrived, and while he spent two years in Fukuoka he was never really as good as Iguchi.

Impact: Medium. Shortstop Munenori Kawasaki effectively took over the infield leadership from Iguchi,but 2005 was the last year of the Hawks’ dynasty. Eventually young infielders Yuichi Honda and Nobuhiro Matsuda emerged, but they still need some time to mature and will probably never be as good as Iguchi was. A double play combination of Kawasaki and Iguchi would have been great to watch as well. Iguchi wasn’t posted, which means that Daiei got nothing in return for him. 

Keiichi Yabu (SP, Tigers -> A’s): Yabu was one of Hanshin’s better starting pitchers during the team’s lean mid-90’s years, but by the time he left for Oakland he was a more of a back of the rotation kind of guy. He seemed have a way to put a string of good starts together, but was injury-prone and a bit inconsistent. 

Impact: Minor. Pitching depth is good in any league but the Tigers still won the Central in 2005. They got destroyed in the Japan Series, but it’s not like Yabu could have prevented that.

Norihiro Nakamura (3B, Buffaloes -> Dodgers): Nori was clearly in decline when he asked the Buffaloes to post him. They happily complied, freeing themselves of his $4.5m salary. He only got a limited look at the MLB level, and failed to impress in the renowned hitter’s paradise in Las Vegas. In 2006 he was back with Orix, where his performance hit bottom. After the ’06 season he negotiated his release after falling out with Orix’s management, then caught on with Chunichi where he rediscovered the plot and managed to win the 2007 Japan Series MVP.

Impact: Very low. I was on the fence about including him in this. Nori’s ups and downs are a good story, but I consider his MLB experiment more of a blip.


Kazuo Matsui (SS, Lions -> Mets): Hiroyuki Nakajima picked up right where ‘LIttle’ Matsui left off, and Seibu went from finishing 5.5 games out in 2003 to winning the Japan Series in 2004. Nakajima also contributed to the Lions’ Series win this past season. 

Impact: Low. Seibu obviously had a capable replacement waiting in the wings in Nakajima. Nakajima hasn’t been quite the perennial MVP candidate that Matsui was, but he’s still been the top shortstop in the Pacific League most seasons since taking over as Seibu’s starter. 

Akinori Otsuka (RP, Dragons -> Padres): The old Kintetsu Buffaloes posted Otsuka after the 2002 season, but there were no takers, so they wound up trading him to Chunichi for cash. After a solid 2003 season, Chunichi posted Otsuka again, and this time San Diego won his rights with a $300k bid. 

Chunichi improved from 2nd in 2003 and 1st in 2004, going on to appear in Japan Series’ in 2004 and 2006, and finally winning in 2007.  One of the team’s strength’s was a deep bullpen, even without Otsuka.

Kintetsu didn’t fare as well. The franchise collapsed under heavy financial losses in 2004, just three years after reaching the Japan Series, and merged with the former Orix Blue Wave franchise. It looked like NPB was at risk for contraction, but the players went on a fan-supported strike and persuaded NPB to admit the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles as an “expansion” team.

Impact: Low. Chunichi got a minimal return for Otsuka, but he was expendable given the team’s bullpen depth. Kintetsu, unfortunately, had problems that couldn’t be solved by the presence of Otsuka. 

Shingo Takatsu (RP, Swallows -> White Sox): When Shingo announced that he was working out for MLB teams, there was a feeling that he was trying to drive up his price in Japan. Wrong. Shingo had a geniune desire to play major league ball, and put up great numbers in his first year with the White Sox. Yakult got by with out him, going 72-62-2 in 2004 vs 71-66-3 in 2003.

Shingo fell apart in 2005 and was back with the Swallows in 2006, where he pitched two more seasons before getting released. He was in camp this spring with the Cubs, but failed to catch on and played for Woori in Korea in 2008. Shingo seemed to really enjoy his time in Chicago, which endeared him to me as a native Chicagoan.

Impact: Low. What gets overlooked here is that Shingo was pretty inconsistent for his last two years in Japan, and Ryota Igarashi seemed ready to take over as the closer. Where Shingo and Otsuka had a large impact, however, was in establishing the reputation of Japanese relievers as effective in MLB. 

Any comments on this group of players?

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Non-News du Jour: Kyuji to Stay with Hanshin

» 03 December 2008 » In npb » 2 Comments

Kyuji Fujikawa got himself into the news the other day, commenting that he intends to hang out in Japan for the time being. “I think I’m happier playing in Japan [than in the majors]”, said Kyuji, adding that he wants to beat the Giants next year. I wouldn’t have posted this, except that he asked Hanshin to post him last off-season. The team categorically denied the request.

In other news, Kyuji is aiming to hit 160 km/h (100 mph) on the gun next year. Hideki Irabu, Kazuo Yamaguchi, and Ryota Igarashi jointly hold the record for Japanese pitchers at 158 km/h, while Marc Kroon holds the NPB record at 161 162 km/h. I’m not sure what Kyuji’s personal best is, I think the hardest I’ve seen him throw is about 155 km/h.

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Padres, White Sox, Brewers, Indians Not In On NPB Free Agents

» 02 December 2008 » In nichibei » Comments Off on Padres, White Sox, Brewers, Indians Not In On NPB Free Agents

Yahoo Japan Sports has a piece on four teams’ lack of interest in Japanese free agents. Warning, translations of translations coming up:

  • San Diego’s Kevin Towers: “We don’t have much room in our budget this offseason. We’re not going to be active in acquiring players”.
  • Chicago’s Kenny Williams: “We really like Uehara, Kawakami, Takahashi, and Aikawa,” before adding, “we don’t have the budget to get involved in the Japanese market”.
  • Cleveland’s Mark Shapiro: “We know Uehara, Kawakami and Takahashi but we’re not making it a priority to acquire them. This offseason we have budget limitations and looking to one or two players; an infielder and an experienced closer”.
  • Milwaukee’s Doug Melvin: “We won’t acquire a Japanese free agent”.
It’s notable that all of these GMs with the exception of Melvin have signed a Japanese free agent in the past. I’m a little surprised by Williams as I saw the White Sox as a dark horse candidate for Kawakami. 

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Hanshin Agrees to Terms with Kevin Mench

» 01 December 2008 » In nichibei, npb » 5 Comments

Looks like the Hanshin Tigers have agreed on a contract former Blue Jay Kevin Mench. Sanspo is reporting that it’s a one-year, $2m deal, which looks good for Hanshin with the yen strong against the dollar. The contract isn’t final, but it’s looking good at this point. 

Mench should take over rightfield from the disappointing Lew Ford and bat fifth or sixth for the Tigers.

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Braves and Twins Japan Notes

» 01 December 2008 » In mlb prospects, nichibei » 2 Comments

A couple of very minor but interesting notes on the Braves and Twins (but mostly Braves) to share today…

  • I wrote a little bit about Yoshinori Yamarin, a high school pitcher who went undrafted, back in October. This Sports Hochi article from Nov 11 says that the Twins had met with him and Braves were planning to. According to Hochi, Yamarin worked out for Lotte and others, and despite his strong desires to play professionally in Japan, went undrafted. He’s reportedly hit 92 mph on the gun as an 18 year-old, and might be an interesting project. This is the kind of guy that stands to lose the most from the Tazawa ban. 
  • Sofbank cut pitcher Kazuhiro Takeoka earlier in the week, which never would have caught my attention except the Sponichi article said that he “might return to the Braves“. I had never heard of him. Turns out that Takeoka played in the Braves system between 2000-2003, reaching AAA in ’02 and ’03. At 33 he’s not an MLB prospect, but an interesting organizational arm. He’s hoping to talk to the Braves and get a decision made by year’s end.

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Tazawa Shipping Up to Boston

» 01 December 2008 » In mlb prospects » 2 Comments

Update, Dec 1: Sanspo has a brief article on Tazawa’s departure to Boston. This is really non-news, but you can get a sense of the media attention he’s getting in these shots: 1, 2, 3. 

Nikkan Sports is reporting Junichi Tazawa is shipping up to Boston (before anyone asks, no. neither a Bostonian nor a Red Sox fan, do like the song though). Tazawa will take a physical negotiate the final terms of his contract with Boston. Nikkan Sports is calling it a 3 year, $4M contract, but that’s the third number I’ve seen reported for the Boston offer, so let’s not assume it’s correct yet. 

Nikkan Sports has a different set of numbers than had previously been reported for the contracts that had been offered to Tazawa:

  • Texas: 4 years, $7M
  • Atlanta: 4 years, $6M
  • Seattle: 3 years, $4.5M
There’s agreement in the media on the Texas offer, but some discrepancies with the others. I guess we’ll find out the real number when he signs.

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Hanshin to Re-Double Efforts to Land Kawakami

» 01 December 2008 » In mlb prospects, npb » Comments Off on Hanshin to Re-Double Efforts to Land Kawakami

Daily Sports is reporting that Hanshin is set to boost it’s efforts to acquire Kenshin Kawakami after failing to entice Daisuke Miura to leave Yokohama. The figure thrown out in this article is 4 years/ ï¿¥2bn ($20m), but I don’t know how seriously I take that number.

Hanshin, if you’re listening, the time to act is now. As of this weekend, Kawakami didn’t have any offers in hand, and he’s unlikely to get much MLB until the frontline guys sign. Go in and offer him $6.5-7m/year and give him something to think about.

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Darvish Signs for 2009

» 01 December 2008 » In npb » 3 Comments

Yu Darvish has renewed his contract for ï¿¥270m ($2.7m), a ï¿¥70m ($700k) increase over 2008. Although Darvish was expected to hit the ï¿¥300m ($3m) mark, he still set a record high for 5th-year players. “The team didn’t win and I didn’t earn any personal titles,” explained Darvish.

NPB players are under team control for a minimum of eight years, and pre-free agent players sign get multi-year contracts (not that I’ve heard of anyway). So each offseason players and teams negotiate salaries for the upcoming season. It’s a little like the arbitration process in MLB, but players’ salaries will decrease after a bad year, and there’s never a third party mediator involved. Players who hold out sometimes pay their own way to spring training.

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