Archive > January 2011

NPB Bullet Points: Late Contracts, New Uniforms

» 30 January 2011 » In npb » 4 Comments

We interrupt our series of 2011 offseason reviews to bring you a bullet list of news items from around NPB. All links in Japanese.

  • Beom-Ho Lee has left the Softbank Hawks and will join the Kia Tigers of the Korean Baseball Organization. Lee hit .205 in 132 at-bats last year, and was well-down the Hawks’ depth chart for this season. He had said that he would go back to Korea if he couldn’t stick at third base, so I give him credit for sticking to his words.
  • In other Hawks news, Hitoshi Tamura finally signed for 2011, agreeing to a one-year deal that will pay a JPY 180m salary. Softbank had offered a multi-year deal but he wanted a one-year deal, saying that he can perform better.
  • Hiroyuki Nakajima was another late signing, agreeing to a JPY 280m salary for 2011. He’ll gun for MLB again next offseason.
  • Craig Brazell has arrived in Japan, and from the looks of things he came straight from the golf course.
  • The Nippon Ham Fighters have unveiled their new uniforms
  • Wladimir Balentien brought his PlayStation 3 to camp, with the idea that he could get to know his teammates over a couple of auto racing games during the spring. He impressed the author of the linked Sponichi article by arriving in Okinawa early and working out on consecutive days.
  • Hideaki Wakui had his salary dispute with Seibu settled in a rare NPB arbitration case, reports Naoko Toyakoshi of Nikkan Sports. Wakui will see his salary rise to JPY 253m, a little short of the JPY 270m he had requested.
  • Meanwhile, Hanshin ace Yasutomo Kubo has yet to renew for 2011 and could wind up paying his own way to camp.
  • Rakuten items: Kazuo Matsui and Akinori Iwamura modeled their Eagles uniforms at K-Sta; later new manager Senichi Hoshino led his team to a pre-camp shrine visit on a snowy day in Sendai; Byung-Hyun Kim was also introduced in the snow.

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Offseason Changes: Hanshin Tigers

» 29 January 2011 » In npb » 8 Comments

Coming: Hiroyuki Kobayashi, Akihito Fujii, Ryota Arai, Robert Zarate, Marcos Vechionacci

Going: Casey Fossum, Akihiro Yano, Satoru Kanemura, Daiyu Kanemura, Keisuke Mizuta

Staying: Matt Murton, Craig Brazell, Jason Standridge, Randy Messenger

Summary: Hanshin’s offseason starts with the successful retention of the team’s foreign core — Murton, Brazell, Standridge. Messenger also received a contract for 2011, despite his disappointing results last season. The fact that Hanshin’s foreign roster isn’t overcrowded may mean that incumbent Kai Wen Jeng gets a few innings at the ichi-gun level, or that the Tigers will seek reinforcements if Standridge or Messenger stumble. Beyond that, Hanshin’s only significant acquisitions were scooping up Kobayashi after he failed to land an MLB contract, acquiring catcher depth in Fujii, and trading for Takahiro Arai’s brother Ryota. Reports of a Jeff Williams comeback have unfortunately not yet come to fruition.

With the return of Murton and Brazell, Hanshin will again field a strong offense, though it is a good bet they will see some regression. The Tigers lineup was spectacular in2010, with five regulars who batted .300 or higher (and Brazell right behind at .297) powering the team to a league-top 740 runs. Hanshin’s lineup will be good in 2011, but Keiichi Hirano is not going to hit .350 again, and Kenji Johjima is on the shelf recovering from knee surgery until sometime after the season starts. And as good as Murton and Brazell are, it would be unrealistic to expect them to match their superb 2010 results. That said though, Hanshin still has an offense rivaled only by Yomiuri in the Central League.

Hanshin’s rotation has a lot more question marks than its lineup. Yasutomo Kubo has been a godsend, last year becoming the first Hanshin pitcher to throw 200 innings since Kei Igawa back in 2006. Standridge was something of a godsend in 2010 as well, finished second on the team with 126.1 innings. Then 42 year-old lefty Tsuyoshi Shimoyanagi contributed his brand of six-inning appearances, but only 19 times. The laws of the universe dictate that he’ll have to stop someday, but who knows when that will be? Beyond those three guys, Hanshin’s rotation is filled with a bunch of question marks. Minoru Iwata, Atsushi Nohmi, and Yuya Ando have all had success in the past but are coming off injuries. Touted 2009 draftee Kazuhito Futagami didn’t throw a pitch last year; Takumi Akiyama threw many with considerable success, but he’s still only 20. Naoto Tsuru finished last season well and could be poised for a breakout. Hanshin’s bullpen also remains a strength, anchored by ace closer Kyuji Fujikawa.

Overall I see Hanshin as a team with a lot of talent, but one that is kind of on the edge. Despite their thin rotation, the Tigers finished one game out of first last season. If their stable pitchers hold steady and a couple of the question marks pan out, they could be dominant. If they falter and the injury guys don’t come back, Hanshin’s bullpen will be overworked and we’ll see a lot of high scoring games.

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Offseason Changes: Yomiuri Giants

» 27 January 2011 » In npb » 6 Comments

Coming: Brian Bannister, Hideki Sunaga, Toshimasa Konta, Jonathan Albaladejo, Carlos Torres, Rusty Ryal, Adam Bright

Going: Masahide Kobayashi, Seung-Yeop Lee, Wirfin Obispo, Marc Kroon, Edgar Gonzalez, Toru Murata, Noriyoshi Ohmichi, Soichi Fujita, Noel Urena

Staying: Seth Greisinger, Dicky Gonzalez

Summary: The top three teams in the Central League (Chunichi, Hanshin, and Yomiuri) all finished the 2010 season within one game of each other in the standings. While the order of finish might be different, it doesn’t look like any of the three will falter and miss the post-season party in 2011.

While the Giants failed in their quest for a fourth straight pennant last season, there were many positives. Owners of NPB’s most powerful lineup, only the Tigers were able to outpace the Giants’ 711 runs scored. Yomiuri’s stars like Alex Ramirez and Michihiro Ogasawara aren’t getting any younger, but both still put up terrific numbers. Ogasawara defies the laws of nature each season, staying remarkably consistent at the plate. Shinnosuke Abe set career highs with 44 home runs and 303 total bases. Hisayoshi Chono and Hayato Sakamoto have emerged as superb young hitters, offsetting a potential future offensive decline.

Once heralded but now out of favor, management decided that Seung-Yeop Lee’s time as a Giant would end this off-season. Since joining the team five years earlier, both Lee’s numbers and playing time steadily decreased each season. Edgar Gonzalez was not retained; the infielder hit .263 with 12 home runs in 2010.

The plan right now seems to be one of replacing the holes that were created by off-season departures. Rusty Ryal spent 2010 with the Arizona Diamondbacks. He’ll battle with for time at third base, as it looks like Tatsunori Hara will slide Ogasawara over to first base. Taishi Ohta and Yoshiyuki Kamei will undoubtedly be squeezed for playing time at ichi-gun if Ryal sticks; the latter is transitioning to the infield this season.

On the pitching side, closer Marc Kroon and Masahide Kobayahi departed.  I expect former New York Yankee Jonathan Albaladejo to fill Kroon’s spot as the 9th inning man. He might have some competition from Tetsuya Yamaguchi or Daisuke Ochi, but I believe Albaladejo will win the role barring injury or severe early underperformance.

As for the rotation, Shun Tohno and Tetsuya Utsumi are set, then the Giants brass has to figure out how to cobble together a winning rotation from Shugo Fujii and a gaggle of foreigners. New arrival Brian Bannister should be part of the rotation, and Seth Greisinger will also get a look after an abbreviated 2010 campaign. Dicky Gonzalez (5-13, 5.29 ERA), who couldn’t come remotely close to his 2009 performance (15-2, 2.11 ERA), was also invited back and is an option. The odds are longer for hurlers such as Chih-Lung Huang or Carlos Torres to win a regular rotation spot, but hopes are high for 2010 top draft pick Hirokazu Sawamura.

Of note, Hideki Sunaga and Toshimasa Konta arrived in a trade with Nippon Ham, as Wirfin Obispo was sent to Hokkaido in exchange. Toru Murata departed for the American minor leagues, but the aforementioned Greisinger took a harsh pay cut to stay with the Giants.

The positional battles, newcomers, and high-powered offense should be fun to watch this spring. We’ll see if it all goes according to plan for the Kyojin when the games count in a few months.

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Byung Hyun Kim Re-emerges

» 25 January 2011 » In npb » 8 Comments

Byung Hyun Kim is back. The Rakuten Golden Eagles have announced the signing of the Korean righty, who played last season for Orange County of the independent Golden League. Kim will earn $400k and wear 99.

Commentor DeGavph called this one back in December. And speaking of comments, January has already set a new record for the most comments in any month since the inception of the site. There’s been some great discussion here lately and I’m happy to be a part of it, so I wanted to say thanks to all those who take the time to leave comments.

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Offseason Changes: Yakult Swallows

» 25 January 2011 » In npb » 8 Comments

Coming: Wladimir Balentien, Osamu Hamanaka, Ryuji Miyade

Going: Jamie D’Antona, Jun Hagiwara, Hei-Chun Lee, Eulogio De La Cruz, Yuki Tanaka

Staying: Tony Barnette, Aaron Guiel, Josh Whitesell, Chang-Yong Lim

Summary: While many teams spent the winter making splashy signings, the Swallows chose to remain a bit under the radar. Unless you consider Wladimir Balentien a big-name international talent, Yakult was dormant in the foreign player market this offseason. The biggest headlines were reserved for Chang-Yong Lim‘s contract size and learning the fate of Jamie D’Antona.

After a rough season, D’Antona was jettisoned and signed a minor league contract with MLB’s Florida Marlins. The team also decided they didn’t have much use for a second season of Eulogio De La Cruz. The Swallows further determined that 37-year old Hagiwara’s best days are behind him. They did retain starter Tony Barnette, a player who showed some flashes of decency but I felt was an overall flop. I know some writers have a higher opinion of him, but I look at his 5.99 ERA and 1.76 WHIP in 2010 with skepticism going forward.

I am a fan of closer Lim’s and I expect Aaron Guiel to perform better in 2011, though maybe not to his 2009 level. Age (38) and health have to be factored in when calculating his expectations.  With respect to their only major addition, Balentien, I am a bit torn. I’m not sure if this guy is going to be Tuffy Rhodes or a Curaçaoan Rob Deer. He could come to NPB and crush the pitching, but his history to this point shows that he tends to be a strikeout machine. We’ll see how he hits, though I know he features a strong outfield arm. Ryuji Miyade returns to Meiji Jingu after a two year absence, though I don’t expect he nor Osamu Hamanaka will have a major impact on the team’s fortunes.

Last year’s mid-season managerial change and second-half surge is history. What remains to be seen is if the Swallows can avoid another slow start and vault themselves into A Class this year. While I believe the team, which finished 72-68-4 (.514) last year, will be competitive throughout 2011, I’m not sure they’re yet in a position to overtake Chunichi, Hanshin, or Yomiuri. Despite having what should be a good, young team with one of Japan’s best players roaming their outfield, I think they’ll fall short of the playoffs.

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Offseason Changes: Hiroshima Carp

» 24 January 2011 » In npb » 2 Comments

Coming: Chad Tracy, Dennis Sarfate, Bryan Bullington, Kiyoshi Toyoda, Tsuyoshi Kikuchihara

Going: Jeff Fiorentino, Justin Huber, Vinnie Chulk, Eric Stults, John Bale, Ken Takahashi, Shinjiro Kojima, Hayato Aoki

Staying: Gio Alvarado, Mike Schultz, Dioni Soriano

Summary: Perhaps the biggest story of Hiroshima’s offseason was the players they didn’t land. The Carp tried unsuccessfully to lure Hiroki Kuroda back in the mix, and lost out to Softbank for prized free agent Seiichi Uchikawa, despite his wife being a Koi fan.

Having lost out on the two Japanese stars, most of Hiroshima’s reinforcements for 2011 are of the suketto variety. Out goes the ineffective group of Fiorentino, Huber, Stults, Bale and Chulk; in come newcomers Tracy, Bullington and Sarfate joing holdovers Alvarado, Schultz and Soriano. The headliner of this year’s import class is Tracy,  the Carp’s highest paid and most accomplished first year import. The other five members of Hiroshima’s foreign roster are all pitchers, and will have to compete amongst themselves for the three remaining ichi-gun spots.

The fact that Soriano is lefthanded may give him a little bit of an edge on the somewhat lefty-thin Carp, but what the team really needs is quality innings. Last season, only Yokohama’s dreadful performance saved Hiroshima from having the least effective staff in Japan. Despite the presence of Sawamura Award winner Kenta Maeda, the Carp surrendered 737 runs in 2010; the next worst was Seibu with 642. Losing Colby Lewis hurt, but so did the fact that eight of the 13 pitchers who threw at least 30 innings for the Carp had an ERA of 5.00 or higher. Getting 150 or so innings of 4.00 ball out of Bullington or Alvarado would go along way for the Carp. So would healthy returns from Kan Ohtake and Katsuhiro Nagakawa. The Carp also spent their first four draft picks on hard-throwing, older prospects last year, so one of them may pay early dividends.

At the plate, Hiroshima managed to finish fourth in the Central League in run production in 2010, despite hitting the fewest home runs. What they lacked in power, they made up for by leading the league in steals with 119, and striking out less than any team other than Yakult. Since Tracy is the only significant lineup change for 2011, expect to see more of the same this season.

Overall I like the group that Hiroshima will field this year better than last year’s, but I don’t see how they make the playoffs without one of the other teams faltering significantly.

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Chunichi Notes: Chen, Soto

» 24 January 2011 » In mlb prospects, npb » Comments Off

Two notes concerning the Chunichi Dragons to pass along this morning:

  • Lefty ace Wei Yin Chen has finally signed for 2011, agreeing to a one-year deal that will pay JPY 170m (a little over $2m). Chen’s desire to play in MLB had been a focal point this offseason, and he’ll get his wish after another year with Chunichi, as the team has agreed to let him go when his contract expires. It’s not clear what form his move to the majors will take — Chen and his representation had asked Chunichi to grant him his release after the season, but the articles I’ve read just say that they “agreed to allow him to move.”
  • Meanwhil the Dragons will look at another lefty this spring. 28 year-old Venezuelan Enyelbert Soto will participate in Chunichi’s camp on a trial basis. Soto has minor league experience in the Astros organization and played in Italy last season.

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Offseason Changes: Yokohama BayStars

» 22 January 2011 » In npb » 16 Comments

Over the next few weeks, we’ll be publishing team-by-team summaries of this offseason’s NPB transactions. There aren’t enough hours in the day to make this a comprehensive list of all movement, so we’ll focus on the highest-impact changes. Our series starts at the bottom of the Central League, which again means the Yokohama BayStars.

Coming: Hichori Morimoto, Shogo Yamamoto, Go Kida, Naoto Watanabe, Brandon Mann, Clayton Hamilton, Brent Leach, Ikki Shimamura, Koji Ohnuma, Kuan Yu Chen

Going: Seiichi Uchikawa, Hayato Terahara, Kazuya Takamiya, Chris Bootcheck, Stephen Randolph, Jose Castillo, Atsushi Kizuka,Yataro Sakamoto, Toshihiro Noguchi, Takahiro Saeki, Shingo Nonaka, Kentaro Kuwabara

Staying: Shuichi Murata, Brett Harper, Termel Sledge, Tatsuhiko Kinjoh, Tomo Ohka

Summary: A lot of turnover for the BayStars again this year, headlined by the losses of Uchikawa and Terahara. Uchi will be missed, as he was Hama’s most consistent on-base threat, and while Morimoto is a useful player, he doesn’t match up at the plate. And trading Terahara for Yamamoto… I just can’t understand that one. Even if they were dead set on acquiring a lefty, they could have simply signed Eric Stults or kept Randolph. But ‘Stars took a different approach to their import roster this year, signing less experienced minor leaguers Mann, Hamilton and Leach rather than getting more 4A guys. Signing a number of guys and seeing if one of them works out is actually a decent strategy for a team that can’t realistically expect to content in 2011. Or perhaps ownership is keeping the payroll down in anticipation of a team sale.

Yokohama finished last in run production and run prevention last year, and didn’t acquire any veteran talent that will immediately improve the team on either side of the ball. So is there any hope by the Bay in 2011? If there is, it has to come from the team’s young talent. The BayStars’ 2010 draft focused on college and Industrial League players who can help soon, and top picks Kota Suda, Kisho Kagami, and Sho Aranami should all be in the mix for ichi-gun time as rookies. Yokohama doesn’t have great organizational pitching depth, but any steps forward taken by Takayuki Makka, Hitoshi Fujie, Atori Ohta and Yoh Sugihara will be meaningful. Overall, though, this looks like a team that is headed for another last place finish.

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Coming & Going: Kobayashi, Kudoh, Trade

» 20 January 2011 » In nichibei, npb » Comments Off

Three players find themselves on the transaction wire, while another hopes to.

  • Lotte free agent Hiroyuki Kobayashi has chosen to join the Hanshin Tigers rather than take a minor league deal from an MLB club. Sanspo quoted Kobayashi as saying, “I’ve decided on Hanshin” and “deep inside, I feel that I want to do my best for the Tigers. I was torn in many ways, but as I player I felt to do my best for a team that needs me is the happiest thing. Now I feel refreshed.” According to Jiji.com an official announcement is coming in a few days.
  • Meanwhile, dai-veteran lefty Kimiyasu Kudoh is going to attempt a voyage across the Pacific. Nikkan Sports caught Kudoh on the record as saying “I think I want to go to America. It would be a minor league contract, but they don’t care about age over there. If I can put up results, I want to realize my Major League dream.” Kudoh will be 48 on May 5, and has been playing pro ball since the early years of the Reagen Administration. He gave up seven earned runs in six innings with Seibu last year. Kudoh had an offer from the Rockies way back in 1999, but signed with Yomiuri.
  • And finally, Yokohama and Seibu swapped pitchers Yataro Sakamoto and Koji Ohnuma. This is a low-impact deal, but I think just instinctively I like this trade better for Seibu. Incidentally, just the other day Deanna watched Yataro play soccer with the BayStars.

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Post-Nishioka

» 16 January 2011 » In npb » 5 Comments

Last season, the Chiba Lotte Marines rode the Pacific League’s top offense to a playoff birth and a Cinderella Nippon Series win. This year, the Marines will return with largely the same lineup, though with one notable absence — Tsuyoshi Nishioka, who was posted to the Minnesota Twins. Lotte hasn’t gone outside their organization to find a full-time replacement, so they’ll open camp with a group of in-house options.

  • Takashi Ogino – Based on media reports, second-year man Ogino making the swith from center field seems to be the preferred option pre-camp. And for good reason: as a rookie in 2010, Ogino impressed with the bat before his season ended very prematurely on May 21, and after his injury fellow rookie Ikuhiro Kiyota emerged in center field. Ogino has shown he can hit at the ichi-gun level, but how well he shakes of the injury rust and transitions to the infield will be open question marks this spring.
  • Shunichi Nemoto - Spare a thought for Nemoto. In his only extended look at the ichi-gun level (314 ABs in 2008), he posted a strong .799 OPS, but was was immediately buried on the depth chart by the arrival of Tadahito Iguchi.
  • Kei Hosoya - Lotte’s third option is newly-minted 23 year-old Hosoya. Hosoya spent most of of 2010 at ni-gun, where he was competent at the plate with a .295/.359/.487 line, but lacking in the field, with a .944 fielding percentage and 15 errors in 58 games at short. I always take minor league stats with a grain of salt, but that fielding percentage is concerning

The one infield acquisition Lotte made was getting Takayuki Takaguchi from Nippon Ham, but as far as I can tell he looks like a utility guy. He, along with utility incumbents Keisuke Hayasaka and Hisao Horiuchi, could also see more playing time in Nishioka’s absence.

It would be unrealistic to expect this group to replicate what Nishioka did in 2010, but then again you could say the same about Nishioka himself. It should be possible, however, for some combination of these players approach Nishioka’s pre-2010 level of performance.

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