Offseason Changes: Yakult Swallows

» 25 January 2011 » In npb »

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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  1. Ken
    25/01/2011 at 7:58 pm Permalink

    Is this a Japanese version of non-roster invitee?

  2. Ken
    25/01/2011 at 10:08 pm Permalink

    I think the Soto that I mentioned in this post is more line an NPB non-roster invitee:

  3. Ken
    Patrick Wilson
    26/01/2011 at 12:49 pm Permalink

    It’s funny but I got a feeling that Balentien might produce pretty good power numbers…

    I look at central league pitching and I see a lot of lefties (Tigers, Hiroshima, Dragons…)

    Just a theory without much science…

    At the same time, I don’t really know if is trouble is the fastball or the breaking ball that got exploited… Probably more the indiscipline in general (hitting wise).

  4. Ken
    Patrick Wilson
    26/01/2011 at 12:51 pm Permalink

    whoops meant (his trouble)…

  5. Ken
    26/01/2011 at 2:10 pm Permalink

    From my memory as a Mariners fan I though Balentien was good fastball hitter and terrible breaking ball hitter, and my first impression was that he would struggle in Japan.
    I was able to find this profile from a Ms blog article from 2008:

    Balentien can hit a fastball, has no idea what to do with a breaking ball, and didn’t make the necessary adjustments as the season went on. Of course, his real talent level is way better than his ‘08 performance, and his numbers will get better even if he doesn’t improve all that much. But as a right-handed pull power guy, Safeco’s going to be rough on him, and he’s not going to add a lot of defensive value. He has to hit to be a regular, and whether the bat is a good enough fit for the park, and whether he can learn how to hit breaking balls, make him a question mark.

  6. Ken
    26/01/2011 at 7:01 pm Permalink

    I think he’ll start the season beating up NPB fastballs. Then, pitchers will pick up that he sucks with breaking pitches and bombard him with sliders and forkballs. How he overcomes that will decide his NPB career outcome.

    As a Yakult fan, my focus in on how much improvement Yoshinori will show and whether Lim will keep up his outstanding performace throughout his new contract. The birds do have the best rotation in Ce-league so I still have high hopes for the Climax series. Gotta take the league while Aoki and Lim are still with us.

  7. Ken
    26/01/2011 at 8:31 pm Permalink

    Why even bother with imports who can’t hit breaking balls. Baffling.

  8. Ken
    26/01/2011 at 10:33 pm Permalink

    Agree wholeheartedly that Yakult has the best rotation in the CL. Four ERA title qualifiers; no other team had more than two. Of course, the fact that only 12 guys qualified for the ERA title is an entirely different discussion…