A year or so ago, I came across a Japanese-language blog called something like “Orix saiken heno michi” (オリックス再建への道), which means “the road to rebuilding Orix”. I’d link to it if I could find it again, but I was unable to.The title pretty much explains the content of the blog, and the content of this post as well.
Aside from a somewhat improbable run to a 2nd place finish and playoff birth in 2008, Osaka’s second team has been serially uncompetitive since the 2004 Orix-Kintetsu merger. After last season, the team replaced manager Daijiro Ohishi with former Orix Blue Wave player and Hanshin Tigers manager Akinobu Okada, and kicked off another rebuilding effort.
Orix has had more than its share of tribulations this year, most notably the tragic suicide of Hiroyuki Oze, and the more recent passing of team dormitory master Toshio Hohya. Despite that, the team stands at a competitive 39-39 record as of July 7, thanks largely to a 16-8 run in interleague. Part of the team’s success has been due to the rather large number of acquisitions and roster tweaks Okada and the front office have made.
Offseason and Pre-Season Moves
- Selected five college/industrial league/independent league pitchers in 09 draft: Okada’s stated strategy was to rebuild the pitching staff with more experienced amateurs. He stayed out of the Yusei Kikuchi race and got his top choice, Shuichi Furukawa, uncontested. Two ’09 draftees, Furukawa and Toru Anan (5th round), have already made their ichi-gun debuts.
- Let Tuffy Rhodes walk: I’m already on the record as calling this a bad move.
- Traded Yasunari Takagi to Yomiuri for Hiroshi Kisanuki: I loved this deal for Orix when it happened, and it’s been a home run for them so far. Kisanuki has been a reliable starter, throwing 100 innings of 3.87 ball, and is headed to the All-Star game. Takagi hasn’t made an appearance for the Giants.
- Signed Aarom Baldiris: Baldiris showed he could play the field from his time with Hanshin, but he never hit enough to keep a regular ichi-gun job with Kansai’s other team. After starting this season on the farm, Baldiris has taken over third base and is hitting .297 with a .766 OPS through 164 PA’s. We’ll see if he can keep it up.
- Signed So Taguchi: Taguchi spent his NPB career with the old Blue Wave version of Orix, before his eight-year stint in MLB. At 40 years old, he’s basically what he was in the States: a useful, if slightly below-average outfield bat off the bench.
- Traded Masahiro Abe to Seibu for Shogo Akada: I’ll call this spring training trade a wash as neither player has performed well with his new team.
- Signed Freddie Bynum: Another spring training move, it looks like Bynum has lost out to Baldiris, and is buried so far down the foreign depth chart that it’s unlikely we’ll see much more of him this year.
- Committed a regular spot in the lineup to T-Okada: The presence of manager Okada led to the player formerly known as Takahiro Okada adopting the fan-suggested T-Okada moniker. It’s worked out pretty well, as he’s sporting an .857 OPS with 17 HR in his first season of regular duty.
- Traded Takehito Kanazawa to SoftBank for Hisao Arakane and Keisuke Kaneko: Another two-player return for a non-contributor. Kaneko has been a non-factor so far, but Arakane has hit .295 though his first 88 at-bats. I’d be a little surprised if the 32 year-old fringey veteran keeps it up though.
- Saw Satoshi Komatsu get healthy: He started the season in the bullpen, and overall doesn’t look the same to me as he did in his fantastic 2008 season, but Komatsu has kicked in 56.1 innings of 3.04 ball.
- Traded Yuichiro Mukae to Hiroshima for Masayuki Hasegawa and Go Kida: it’s hard not to love this trade for Orix — they turned a career .177 hitter into a guy who can at least handle pinch hitting duties, and a once-promising righthander who can still be effective if healthy. Kida’s value as a bench bat is somewhat negated in the DH-using Pacific League, but Orix got a big return on Mukae. Supposedly Hiroshima really wanted Naoyuki Ohmura.
- Signed Fernando Seguignol: Seguignol comes full-circle, having spent an unproductive season with the Blue Wave way back in 2002. Seguignol was signed to provide injury depth behind Alex Cabrera, but only appeared in six games before being sent down.
So not every move Orix made has worked out, but there are plenty of wins in this list. I still think Orix will settle to the bottom this year and miss the playoffs, as they just don’t have the star power to compete with the rest of the Pacific League. But they’re making it interesting.