Tag Archive > Akinori Iwamura

Reports: Rakuten Agrees with McGehee

» 20 December 2012 » In nichibei, npb » 1 Comment

Multiple reports out of the Japanese media machine say that the Rakuten Golden Eagles have agreed to a contract with third baseman Casey McGehee. I’ll link to the Sankei/MSN report, which tells us that McGehee will get $1.3m on a one-year deal, and quotes Rakuten scouting director Hiroshi Abei as saying that an official announcement would be possible after McGehee completes his physical.

McGehee is Rakuten’s second big signing of the offseason, the first being Andruw Jones. McGehee replaces the released Akinori Iwamura as Rakuten’s third baseman. Yomiuri had also been reportedly interested in acquiring MaGehee.

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Game Notes: Baseball Returns to Sendai

» 28 April 2011 » In npb » 2 Comments

Summary: I decided to finish up my lingering notes from a game I watched a couple days ago. Rakuten beat Orix 3-1

Last Friday, pro yakyu returned to the Tohoku region, with the Rakuten Golden Eagles playing their first home game of the season in Sendai. The timing was actually not bad, as the game coincided with the opening of the Golden Week holidays. I guess that probably wasn’t unintentional. Anyway, a pretty good crowd was on hand for the game, and they were treated to a brisk, well-pitched match, and a Rakuten win.

The final score was 3-1, but the game could have gone either way. Rakuten starter Masahiro Tanaka went the distance, and was sharp the whole way through. He didn’t get into any remotely threatening situations until his third trip through the Buffaloes lineup. He didn’t have to look back to see a runner on second base until the 7th inning, and it took a Kazuo Matsui throwing error in the 8th for Orix to get a run in.

As good as Tanaka was, I thought Chan Ho Park was a little better. Park was a groundball machine against the Eagles. I didn’t see him elevate a single pitch in the innings I watched, and only a couple balls hit in the air reached the outfield. The only blemish, for me, was that he didn’t generate many swinging strikes.

Rakuten has a fairly punchless lineup so it’ll be interesting to see how Park fares against some of Japan’s better offenses, after the league has had a look at him.

Here are some other miscellaneous observations from my notes the game:

  • Mike Hessman made his first appearance since April 12, pinch hitting for catcher Fumihito Suzuki in the 7th. He waved at a couple sliders before making contact with a fastball, popping it to short center.
  • This was the first time in a couple weeks that I saw Akinori Iwamura, who’s struggled this year with a sub-.200 batting average. The one noticeable adjustment that he had made was that he’s moved closer to the plate. Earlier in the year, he was way off it.
  • T-Okada is an interesting hitter to watch. It’s hard to see from the normal TV angle, but he’s a front-leg hitter. He’s got a way of compressing his strength on his back leg as the pitch is being delivered, then springing forward with this swing and unloading all that energy. It worked pretty well in the 4th, when there was no one on base and he wasn’t trying to do too much, but in the 7th, when he was trying to hit a home run, he struck out.
  • It looked like most of the seats in the stadium were occupied, but there was one section on the first base side that was weirdly completely empty. I wonder if that section is closed due to post-quake safety issues.
  • One notable attendee was US ambassador to Japan John Roos.

 

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2011 Season Predictions: Pacific League

» 10 April 2011 » In npb » Comments Off

The Pacific League is balanced. In fact, this is probably the first time I can say that I think that every team in the league has a chance to finish first. That makes it difficult to pick winners this year, so I’m going to try something different. I’ve got the teams ranked not by where I think they’ll finish, but by how likely I think they are to finish first.

6. Orix Buffaloes (offseason summary)

High-risk, high-reward rotation; new suketto question marks; counting on lots of guys who had their first success in 2010; thin bullpen; Chihiro Kaneko injured

5. Chiba Lotte Marines (offseason summary)

Absence of Tsuyoshi Nishioka and Hiroyuki Kobayashi; lineup is due for some regression; not quite sold on starters not named Naruse or Karakawa

4. Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles (offseason summary)

Strong front rotation; better lineup with the additions of Kazuo Matsui and Akinori Iwamura; lots of righty bullpen options; new manager

3. Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters (offseason summary)

Yu Darvish; steady rotation; great defense; a few break-out candidates; good 2nd half in 2010; Darvish

2. Fukuoka Softbank Hawks (offseason summary)

Additions of Alex Cabrera and Seiichi Uchikawa; strong lineup 1-9; good 1-2 starters; lights-out bullpen; backed into 2010 title; emerging starters; lots of injury-prone players

1. Saitama Seibu Lions (offseason summary)

Productive lineup; talented core; interesting young pitchers — Yusei Kikuchi, Tatsuya Oishi, Kazuhisa Makita; stalwart ace in Hideaki Wakui

It was tough putting Orix last, since I’m such a big fan of their approach, but everything needs to go right for them to win. Similarly it’s hard having Lotte fifth after a Nippon Series win, but I think their lineup is likely to fall back to earth in 2011. Rakuten in fourth is a bit of a leap of faith for me; last year Chunichi won with four good hitters and a good group of pitchers. Rakuten has the starters (but not the bullpen) and with their additions they might have the offense they need to contend. As for the other three… well, it came down to a toss up between Softbank and Seibu for first. I think I just have a preference for Seibu’s lineup, and more confidence in their ability to remain healthy.

The point is, any one of these teams can win in 2011. It should be a great season.

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Offseason Changes: Rakuten Golden Eagles

» 04 February 2011 » In npb » 4 Comments

Coming: Akinori Iwamura, Kazuo Matsui, Shinjya Okamoto, Kelvin Jimenez, Byung-Hyun Kim, manager Senichi Hoshino

Going: Kazuo Fukumori, Norihiro Nakamura, Makoto Kosaka, Ryuji Miyade, Todd Linden, Andy Phillips, Naoto Watanabe, Keiichi Yabu, manager Marty Brown

Staying: Hisashi Iwakuma, Darrell Rasner, Randy Ruiz, Juan Morillo

Summary: Rakuten’s 2011 offseason was headlined by two big events: the unsuccessful posting of ace Hisashi Iwakuma, and the hiring of accomplished manager Senichi Hoshino. Hoshino inherits a team that finished sixth last year, and is facing with losing its ace again.

I shared a few observations about the Iwakuma posting, and why in retrospect it was destined to fail, over at FanGraphs last month, so I won’t rehash that. From an on-the-field perspective, the Eagles are certainly more competitive with him than without him. He and heir apparent Masahiro Tanaka will lead a rotation that goes four deep; five if Kelvin Jimenez’s KBO success translates to Japan. Coincidentally, Rakuten’s two notable bullpen acquisitions came via Korea last year: Shinya Okamoto spent last season with the LG Twins, and the other is Byung-Hyun Kim. Those two along with the returning Juan Morillo give Hoshino a couple more relief options, which will help as Rakuten’s bullpen wasn’t particularly strong in 2010. But overall pitching was not really Rakuten’s problem last season. The Eagles allowed 635 runs and a 3.98 ERA, which was right in line with the all the Pacific League teams that don’t have Yu Darvish.

Rakuten’s problem in 2010 was an anemic offense. Only Nippon Ham hit fewer home runs than Rakuten’s 95, but the Fighters’ contact-hitting lineup still scored 36 more runs than the Eagles. Rakuten finished last or next to last in the Pacific League in runs scored, batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, steals, and intentional walks. This poor performance can mostly be attributed to four players: imports Todd Linden and Andy Phillips didn’t show up last year, and veteran sluggers Norihiro Nakamura and Takeshi Yamasaki experienced declines. Linden, Phillips and Nakamura are all gone this year, replaced in the lineup by a full season of Randy Ruiz and NPB returnees Akinori Iwamura and Kazuo Matsui. That group should outperform the guys who left, though Kazuo is a bit of a question mark for me. Yamasaki is getting old, but his 28 home runs and .749 OPS in 2010 were a respectable contribution. After that, the Eagles have perhaps Japan’s unheralded offensive star, Teppei, who despite his talent only gets a passing mention in this article. So the offense should be better, but even in the best case scenario it’s hard to see it being more than middle of the road in the Pacific League.

The last factor to discuss is the addition of Hoshino as manager. I see a few parallels with the last team he took over, the 2002 Hanshin Tigers. Hoshino is again inheriting a team coming off a last-place finish, succeeding Katsuya Nomura (though Nomura passed the Rakuten baton to Marty Brown for a season), with some some added veteran talent*. Hoshino got his Tigers off to a fast start in 2002, and though the team cooled off and eventually finished fourth, the improvement was real. The Tigers won the Central League handily in 2003 and have basically been competitive ever since. Hoshino will have less to work with in Sendai, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see his tenure with Rakuten take a similar path. He’ll be eager to exorcise any remaining demons from his stint managing Japan’s 2008 Olympic entry, a performance so disappointing it inspired a fan to set up a site protesting his involvement in the 2009 WBC. Rakuten definitely has the talent to compete for wins in 2011, though they probably won’t be in the mix for the Pacific League title. If they can take a step forward this season and build from there, Hoshino has a shot at wrapping up his distinguished managerial career on a high note.

*The 2002 Tigers brought in Atsushi Kataoka and George Arias. Tomoaki Kanemoto and Hideki Irabu joined in 2003.

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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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The Third Baseman Market Closes

» 17 November 2010 » In nichibei, npb » 7 Comments

Two weeks ago, when I asked readers at my other job to help me generate a list of new sukketo candidates, I noted the need for two new third baseman in NPB 2011. I specifically had Rakuten and Hiroshima in mind when I wrote that, and both teams added a player to man the hot corner today.

Rakuten opened up third base early in the off season, when they parted ways with veteran Norihiro Nakamura. Nori was part of an anemic Rakuten offense that finished last in runs in 2010. Though his .266/.329/.397 line was an improvement from his dreadful .222 performance in 2009, it was still an obvious position to upgrade. Enter Akinori Iwamura. Rakuten officially announced their signing of Aki on the 17th. Sanspo is calling the deal a two-year, 400m yen ($4.8m) pact, while Sports Hochi says that it includes incentives and an option year that could make it a three-year, 1bn yen ($12m) deal. That’s a bit more than I would have expected Aki to command, but Rakuten has money to spend with Hisashi Iwakuma and Nori coming off the books, and Iwakuma’s posting bounty being added to the income side of the ledger. And obviously Aki doesn’t count as a foreign player, so Rakuten keeps their roster spots open to pursue more bats (Wladimir Balentien? Edit: Nope, he’s joining Yakult).

Meanwhile down in Hiroshima, the Carp are closing in on signing Chad Tracy. The Chugoku Shimbun reported that the Carp were finishing up their inquiry with MLB on Tracy on the 16th, but it seems like this deal will happen. The Carp have relied on foreign players such as Scott Seabol and Scott McClain at third base since losing Takahiro Arai to free agency a few years ago, but I didn’t expect them to go after a guy with Tracy’s level of MLB experience. The Chugoku Shimbun called him the player with the most MLB experience that Hiroshima has ever imported, and I’d have to agree with them on that. Playing Tracy at third and Kenta Kurihara at first should be a big improvement at the plate and in the field over the experiment of Kuri at third and Justin Huber at first last season.

With the departure of Edgar Gonzales, we may see Yomiuri add a utility guy that can handle some third, but aside from that, I think every NPB team has their third baseman for 2011.

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NPB Bullet Points: News & Retirements

» 02 September 2010 » In international baseball, npb » 7 Comments

(insert witty introduction here)

Around NPB

  • Chihiro Kaneko has gotten himself in to the mix for the Pacific League’s wins title, with a career-best personal 10-game winning streak. Kaneko is now 14-7 on the season. He also has six shutouts.
  • The Giants have slumped to sub-.500 records in each of the last two months, and it’s showing on Tatsunori Hara’s face.
  • Craig Brazell cranked out his 40th bomb of the season the other day, becoming the first Hanshin foreigner to since Randy Bass back in ’86.
  • Orix righty Kazuki Kondo pitched a 144-pitch complete game loss on the 1st… and then got sent down. I didn’t see the game, but it must have been a save-the-bullpen kind of effort, as Kondo had allowed seven runs by the third inning.
  • Nippon Ham lefty Masaru Takeda has a personal seven-game winning streak going, and leads the Fighters with 12 wins.
  • Rakuten ace Masahiro Tanaka is out a minimum of three weeks with a torn pectoral muscle, and with Rakuten languishing in last place, it’s looking unlikely that he’ll pitch again this year.
  • At least one MLB club was seen watching lefty Daiki Uekida’s September 2 outing for Tokyo Gas of the Industrial Leagues. I haven’t seen Uekida but at first glance he looks like a Hisanori Takahashi type.
  • Today’s Japanese word: moudasho (mo-da-sho, 猛打賞), which means three hits in one game. An example: Lotte shortstop Tsuyoshi Nishioka has 22 moudasho games this season, a club record. Ichiro, of course, holds the NPB record with 26. With 21 team games left in the season, Nishioka has a shot at Ichiro’s record if he gets hot.

Player Personnel

  • Yakult is looking into re-acquiring Akinori Iwamura. Pittsburgh is set to move on from Aki after this season, and I believe Yakult still controls his NPB rights.
  • Longtime Hanshin catcher Akihiro Yano is calling it a career at the end of the season. Something of a late-bloomer, Yano made seven All-Star appearances in his 20-year career and was the runner-up for the 2003 MVP.
  • Orix ni-gun infielder Masahiro Nagata has already retired, according to a team announcement from August 31. Nagata was once a pretty decent prospect, but never made an impact at the top level.
  • Cuban pitcher Pedro Lazo is also retiring. I was planning on listing him as a dark horse to move to Japan next season, as Omar Linares and Orestes Kindelan did at the end of their careers.

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Re-Run: The Effects of NPB Players Leaving for MLB, part 4

» 27 August 2010 » In mlb, mlb prospects, nichibei, npb » 4 Comments

I’ve spent most of my writing time this week over at FanGraphs, profiling some of Japan’s better players. In researching that set of articles, I came across this post I wrote in early 2009, before Koji Uehara and Kenshin Kawakami had signed with MLB clubs. Looking back at this, I don’t think I’d change the set of conclusions that I originally drew, but I will add the observation that this trend has hurt the overall depth of the league. Another interesting thing to note is that 11 of the 26 players listed here have returned to NPB, several since this article was written: Johjima, Iguchi, Kobayashi, Yabuta, Taguchi, Yabu and Fukumori.


Time to close out this series with some conclusions. I fear that I may be oversimplifying this a bit, but I’m looking for macro trends with this. These are casual observations, I didn’t do any hard research.

Check the three previous installments here: 1, 2, 3.

1. Most of the teams that lost a star to MLB took some kind of a hit in the standings. With the exception of Hiroshima, the teams losing the top 10 players listed below took years to replace the production they lost, and some still haven’t. It’s also important to remember that none of these departures happened in a vacuum; there were other things that affected the performance of each team, but overall the lose of these players has hurt their former teams competitively.

2. The only team that really took a popularity hit after losing a star to MLB was the Giants after losing Matsui. I bought walk-up tickets to a Giants game in 2005, which would have been unthinkable a few years earlier. Of course, while the Giants were down, the Tigers and Dragons were both up and have enjoyed competitive success and popularity since the early part of the decade. SoftBank has been less competitive since losing Johjima, but has not suffered at the gate. The team is actually adding 6000 seats to the Yahoo Dome for next season to help meet demand.

3. Signing foreign talent to replace departed stars doesn’t seem to work. Teams will often sign foreign players to fill the holes left by departed stars, but when the do so, they’re losing the opportunity to add depth at other positions with those roster spots. I can’t think of an example where a foreign star was a long-term replacement for an MLB bound star. Colby Lewis was great as Hiroki Kuroda’s replacement in 2008, but so was Kevin Hodges a few years ago and he flamed out after a single season.

4. Losing talent to MLB has a trickle-down impact on the smaller market teams. As an example, Hanshin may have been content with their outfield had Shinjo stuck around, but two years after he left they signed Tomoaki Kanemoto away from the Carp to play left field. Kanemoto has gone on to become a legend for the Tigers while the Carp have only recently begun to show signs of life. Hanshin and Yomiuri can spend to fill their holes, while smaller market teams like Hiroshima cannot.

5. On the positive side, stars moving to MLB has opened up (or could potentially open) spots for younger players, in a league where there is no rule 5 draft and blocked prospects and depth guys are seldom traded. We haven’t seen too many cases of prospects jumping in and filling the shoes of the top 10 guys I’ve listed below, but others have stepped in for 11-26.

Overall, I don’t think this trend is killing NPB. Attendance is stable, and Japan Series television ratings were up this year (mostly because the Giants played in it). Many of the players who have made the leap to MLB have actually been pretty successful, which has greatly improved the credibility of NPB overseas. On the downside, the loss of star players has hurt the competitive depth of the affected teams, and led many to question the viability of the league. I seeing the loss of these star players as an “Oakland A’s-ing” of the league — the A’s have gotten by with smart management, an ability to exploit market inefficiencies and a willingness to continually reinvent the team on the field. The A’s style doesn’t translate to the Japanese game completely, but the underlying principles of thrift and creativity are important for a group of teams that generally is not going to compete with MLB financially.

Below is a list of all the players I looked at, ranked in order of how much I think their departure affected their previous team and the league. For me, there are really about three or four classes: Matsui and Johjima, Iwamura through Iguchi, and everyone else. You can possibly put Matsui, Kobayashi and Yabuta in their own class as well, as guys who were quickly replaced but did leave a gap in their absences.

Rank Player Team Year Record Before Record After Impact
1 Hideki Matsui Yomiuri 2003 86-52-2 71-66-3 High
2 Kenji Johjima Daiei/SoftBank 2006 89-45-2 75-56-5 High
3 Akinori Iwamura Yakult 2007 70-73-3 60-84-0 High
4 Kosuke Fukudome Chunichi 2008 78-64-2 71-68-5 High
5 Daisuke Matsuzaka Seibu 2007 80-54-2 66-76-2 Medium
6 Ichiro Orix 2001 64-67-4 70-66-4 Medium
7 Hiroki Kuroda Hiroshima 2008 60-82-2 69-70-5 Medium
8 Kei Igawa Hanshin 2007 84-58-4 74-66-4 Medium
9 Kazuhisa Ishii Yakult 2002 78-56-6 72-64-2 Medium
10 Tadahito Iguchi Daiei/Softbank 2005 77-52-4 89-45-2 Medium
11 Kazuo Matsui Seibu 2004 77-61-2 74-58-1 Low
12 Masahide Kobayashi Lotte 2008 76-61-7 73-70-1 Low
13 Yasuhiko Yabuta Lotte 2008 76-61-7 73-70-1 Low
14 Takashi Saito Yokohama 2006 69-70-7 58-84-4 Low
15 Hideki Okajima Nippon Ham 2007 82-54-0 79-60-5 Low
16 Akinori Otsuka Chunichi 2004 73-66-1 79-56-3 Low
17 Shingo Takatsu Yakult 2004 71-66-3 72-62-2 Low
18 Tsuyoshi Shinjyo Hanshin 2001 57-78-1 57-80-3 Low
19 Keiichi Yabu Hanshin 2005 66-70-2 87-54-5 Low
20 So Taguchi Orix 2002 70-66-4 50-87-3 Low
21 Satoru Komiyama Yokohama 2002 69-67-4 49-86-5 Low
22 Kazuo Fukumori Rakuten 2008 67-75-2 65-76-3 Low
23 Norihiro Nakamura Kintetsu 2005 61-70-2 62-70-4 Low
24 Shinji Mori* Seibu 2006 67-69-0 80-54-2 Low
25 Yusaku Iriki* Nippon Ham 2006 62-71-3 82-54-0 Low
26 Masumi Kuwata Yomiuri 2007 65-79-2 80-63-1 Low

* I forgot about both these guys when compiling the original lists. Mori was successfully posted and signed with Tampa Bay, but got hurt in his first spring training and was never heard from again. Iriki played in the Mets and Blue Jays organizations, but got busted for PED usage and never reached the Majors. He resurfaced with Yokohama in 2008, but retired after the season.

** I left out Yukinaga Maeda as well.

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Hanshin Reps to Visit the States

» 09 August 2010 » In mlb, nichibei » 6 Comments

Alright, here we go. Multiple reports have Hanshin sending their international guy, Toshihiko Yamanaka, over to the US to gather information on Japanese major leaguers and new imports for next season. Sanspo and Nikkan Sports are speculating on a couple names that Hanshin could be after. I didn’t bother to write about this earlier in the season when rumors about Hanshin being interested in Hideki Matsui again cropped up, but this time I’ll bite.

Pointing to last year’s signing of Kenji Johjima, Sanspo speculates that Kosuke Fukudome and Kenshin Kawakami could be acquisition candidates. While both players have fallen out of favor with their current employers, both are under contract for next season and I would expect them to find MLB takers. It’s worth noting that Hanshin was reportedly interested in Kawakami when he was a free agent following the 2008 season, and supposedly willing to offer him 600m yen ($6m give or take) per season. They may have been talking tall as I don’t think such an offer ever materialized. In any event, as my FanGraphs bud Dave Cameron points out, Kawakami hasn’t been as bad as his superficial numbers indicate and deserves a shot at regular MLB work. Fukudome would be a great fit for Hanshin, with 42 year-old star leftfielder Tomoaki Kanemoto a shadow of his former self, but I just don’t see it happening.

Meanwhile, Nikkan Sports offers somewhat more reasonable speculative names: Hiroki Kuroda and Koji Uehara. Both have contracts expiring after this year, and I would guess they have clauses requiring their teams to release them if they can’t work out deals, which would get them out of their arbitration years and into free agency. I don’t see either as a realistic target for Hanshin though; I think the Dodgers will hang on to Kuroda, and Uehara talked openly about wanting to play in MLB to give up this quickly.

Two guys that weren’t mentioned are Kazuo Matsui and Akinori Iwamura, who are both in 3A and candidates to head back to the Far East. Neither fits with the current Hanshin speculation, but either one could help Yakult, for example, who badly wanted Kaz after he was released by Houston.

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Interest for Igarashi

» 11 November 2009 » In mlb prospects » 1 Comment

The market for Ryota Igarashi is showing it’s first signs of life. Sanspo has quotes from a couple of key figures

  • Pirates GM Neil Huntington: “In acquiring(Akinori) Iwamura, we opened the door to getting Japanese players. We gave up a middle reliever to get Iwamura, so he [Igarashi] is a player we have interest in.”
  • Giants GM Brian Sabean: “It’s not our top priority, but he’s a player we’re looking into.”
  • Agent Arn Tellem: “There is high interest for stoppers in the majors. He’s a player that a lot of teams should show interest in, and we expect good results from him.”

Clearly a little agent-speak there at the end. As a side note, Igarashi and Iwamura played together with Yakult in Japan.

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