2012 Free Agents Etc
International Free Agents
Hisashi Iwakuma (SP, Rakuten Golden Eagles) — After last offseason’s well-documented posting misfire, Iwakuma will give it another go this year, this time as a free agent. The bad news is that Iwakuma is currently (July 18) rehabbing a shoulder problem that has kept him sidelined since May. We’ll see how he does when he comes back, but I fully expect him to command an MLB deal. (Hisashi Iwakuma tag archive)
Wei-Yin Chen (SP, Chunichi Dragons) — Chunichi’s Taiwanese lefty ace negotiated a free agency clause into his agreement last offseason, and intends to move to the Bigs for 2012. I’ve only watched Chen once this year, and it looked like he traded some velocity for pitchability. It’s unusual to have an established lefty with a good arm freely available on the market at age 26, so it’ll be interesting to see where he winds up. Expect more on Chen in a later post. (Wei-Yin Chen tag archive)
Matt Murton (Outfielder, Hanshin Tigers) — Spare a thought for Hanshin and their fans here for a moment: after years of importing duds like Shane Spencer and Kevin Mench to man rightfield, Hanshin scores a hit with Murton and almost immediately has to worry about losing him to MLB. Hanshin’s brass would love to keep him around, but the assumption is that he’d like to make an MLB comeback. Japan’s single-season hits record holder is again among the Central League’s batting average leaders, but like most of NPB’s batters his power and patience numbers have seen a decline in this offense-starved season. (Matt Murton ag archive)
Munenori Kawasaki (SS/2B, Softbank Hawks) — Profiling Kawasaki has been on my now-basically-defuct to-do list since I started the site back in 2008. I’ve long thought of Mune-rin as an MLB prospect, and though I’ve tempered my expectations for him I still think he could provide value to an MLB club in the right role. Kawasaki trains with Ichiro in the offseason, and the Japanese media would love to him wind up with Seattle. Mariners scout Yasushi Yamamoto had nice things to say about him in June: “I’m grading him higher than (Tsuyoshi) Nishioka and (Hiroyuki) Nakajima in baserunning and defense. If he can hit .250 in the Majors that will be enough (to play regularly).” Softbank will try to keep him. (Munenori Kawasaki tag archive)
Tsuyoshi Wada (SP, Softbank Hawks) — Lefty Wada stepped into the Hawks’ rotation straight out of Waseda University back in 2003, and has been pretty consistently effective even since, culminating with an MVP Award last season (over an arguably more-deserving Tsuyoshi Nishioka). Wada isn’t going to blow anyone away with his fastball, but he mixes a slider and a changeup and has solid command. My concern about Wada is whether he’ll be able to handle a full complement of innings in an MLB rotation. Japanese starters have had a tendency to regress on innings pitched after migrating to MLB; Wada has topped 180 innings only three times, the most recent being 2007 (though he’s on pace for about 185 this year). (Tsuyoshi Wada tag archive)
Hiroyuki Nakajima (SS, Seibu Lions) — Nakaji made multiple requests to be posted last offseason, all of which were denied by Seibu’s management, citing a desire to compete this season. It hasn’t really worked out, as the Lions are currently in last place in the Pacific League (despite my preseason optimism). Like most of NPB, Nakajima’s numbers have been suppressed by the new ball, but he still sports a .279/.339/.431 line. Sadly that .430 slugging percentage is good for sixth in the Pacific League. I don’t really see Nakaji as an MLB shortstop, but if he can come close his current .770 OPS at the MLB level, he’d be a useful second baseman. (Hiroyuki Nakajima tag archive)
Norichika Aoki (OF, Yakult Swallows) — Posting rumors involving Aoki were once common but have really died down over the last few years. There was some reporting that he was going to ask to be posted last offseason, but nothing came of it. It seems pretty clear that Yakult wants to hang on to him, so my take is that it’s highly unlikely that Aoki will be posted this offseason. If he was, his MLB value would be questionable. In this year’s depressed offensive environment, Aoki has largely held on to his on-base skills, but seen his power decline significantly. After regularly slugging around .500 over the last several years, Aoki has just 12 extra base hits (no home runs) in 292 at bats this season, for a .363 rate. (Norichika Aoki tag archive)
Yu Darvish (SP, Nippon Ham Fighters) – Darvish is not a free agent until after the 2014 season. Despite heavy rumor circulation, there’s no concrete evidence that Darvish is going to be posted this offseason. The rumors are nothing new, they’ve been around since before I started this blog in 2008, but they have gone up a notch this year. The only on-the-record quote I’ve seen recently from anyone who’s involved are these, from Nippon Ham GM Masao Yamada, last month in Sponichi: “posting is done at the request of the individual, and he hasn’t said anything to us, so we can’t ask ‘what shall we do’ from our side” and “when the time comes, we’ll take the circumstances of the team and the player’s performance into consideration”.
Having said all that, Darvish has done nothing to discourage the rumors with his performance. After a rough opening day start, Darvish has been flat-out dominant this season. I would go as far as to say this is the best work I’ve ever seen from him. Part of that is because of the new, offensive-choking ball, but Darvish has done his part, leading Japan in wins, innings pitched, and strikeouts. I don’t have any doubt that he could perform well against better competition. (Yu Darvish tag archive)
We may see a player I haven’t discussed posted as well; last year I didn’t think Hisashi Iwakuma or Tsuyoshi Nishioka would be posted, and they both were.
The Japanese site My Favorite Giants maintains a page on free agency status, which was a huge help in pulling this content together.