2011 Free Agents Etc

updated: October 30

International Free Agents

Hiro Kobayashi (RHP, Chiba Lotte Marines, Data): Kobayashi had a lengthy career as an underrated starter before moving to the bullpen in 2010, where he has been very effective. Kobayashi doesn’t have a power arm, but attacks the strike zone.

Chang Yong Lim (RHP, Yakult Swallows, Data): Certainly the top arm available in the international pool, the 34 year-old reliever had flirtations with MLB prior to moving to Japan. It would be interesting to see how his unusual combination of a low arm angle and velocity play at the MLB level. Update: Yakult has been negotiating to keep Lim, with offers reportedly in the 3-year, 900m-1.2bn yen range (roughly $11-14m). I figure his best offer will come from Yomiuri.

Brian Falkenborg (LHP, SoftBank Hawks, Data): Falkenborg has dramatically improved his control in Japan (61:7 K:BB in 2010 as of August 12; 61:9 in 2009), and shown good velocity. SoftBank will want to bring him back, but he’ll be a candidate for MLB teams need righty bullpen depth. Update: I’ve seen some reports saying that Falkenborg has already re-signed with SoftBank, but others suggesting that he hasn’t yet.

Yoshinori Tateyama (RHP, Nippon Ham Fighters, Data): 35 year-old fastball/slider righty. Will most likely only command a minor league contract.

Hitoshi Tamura (OF, SoftBank Hawks): Tamura enjoyed a bounce back year in 2010, hitting .324/.374/.550 with 27 home runs in SoftBank’s title running. Tamura had had some success earlier in his career with Yokohama but, 2010 was his first productive season in Fukuoka. Supposedly he’d be looking for about $1m per year in MLB.

Marc Kroon (RHP, Yomiuri Giants): It looks clear that Yomiuri will move on from Kroon and try to get Lim. Kroon has said he wants to keep playing in Japan, my guess is that Hanshin will be interested.

Synopsis: the year of the righthanded reliever.

Domestic Free Agents

Seiichi Uchikawa (IF/OF, Yokohama BayStars): The best bat on the domestic market, Uchikawa downplayed his free agency when he qualified, saying he’d need time to think about it. If he decides he wants to play elsewhere in Japan, he’ll have the usual suitors (Hanshin, Yomiuri). Update: Ownership instability means that Uchikawa could realistically move to another NPB team. Softbank seems like a great fit.

Tsuyoshi Wada (LHP, SoftBank Hawks, Data): Wada has qualified for free agency, but has already commented that “there’s absolutely no reason to exercise”. We’ll see what happens when he qualifies to move to MLB.

Munenori Kawasaki (IF, SoftBank Hawks): Kawasaki is eligible for NPB free agency after the season, but according to Sponichi, wants to hold out for a chance at MLB after next season.

Shuichi Murata (3B, Yokohama BayStars): Like Uchikawa, Yokohama’s upcoming ownership change could prompt Murata to move. Rakuten would be a great fit.

Hisasahi Iwakuma (RHP, Rakuten Golden Eagles, Data): Iwakuma has qualified for domestic free agency, but is already under contract for 2011. He’s one to watch next year. Actually scratch that he’s getting posted.

Synopsis: wait ’til next year.

Posting Candidates

Hisashi Iwakuma (RHP, Rakuten Golden Eagles, Data): Iwakuma’s posting has been confirmed and will probably take place in November. Look for Iwakuma to command a posting fee in the $10m range, and be a 3-4 starter in MLB.

Wei-Yin Chen (LHP, Chunichi Dragons, Data): Chen is an interesting case – he’s registered as a foreign player, but doesn’t have contract language allowing him to become a free agent if he chooses, as the MLB veterans that play in Japan typically do. As such, he subject to the posting system as his only means to move to MLB prior to hitting free agency. He was outspoken about wanting to be posted after last season, and hired Alan Nero to represent him, so I expect him to ask again this offseason. He’s 25, lefthanded, and has an electric arm, so I would expect him to command a healthy transfer fee.

Kyuji Fujikawa (RHP, Hanshin Tigers, Data): Japan’s best strikeout reliever has talked for years about being posted; Hanshin has insisted that Kei Igawa was an exception and that Fujikawa won’t be posted. I profiled Fujikawa way back in June 2008. I recently wrote about Iwakuma at my other haunt.

Yu Darvish (RHP, Nippon Ham, Data): The rumblings that Darvish wants to be posted have picked up this year, but then again every year there are rumors of an imminent posting and it hasn’t happened yet. I’d say there’s maybe a 1% chance that Darvish gets posted this year. He’s still about four years away from full, international free agency. Update: Darvish has confirmed that he is not leaving Nippon Ham.

Synopsis: I think we see Chen posted, at the most. Got that one wrong. We’ll wait and see on Chen,