There’s always a high turnover among foreign players in Japan. This year will be no different, with 30+ players already gone from their 2009 employers. By the end of next season, we’ll have seen 35-45 new players in Japan.
Like most years, the biggest needs around the league are corner outfielders, pitchers, and first basemen. There will be a couple third base and DH spots open as well.
This is mostly my own speculation. Some of the names came out of the Japanese media, but many have not, so take this list with a grain of salt.
CJ Nitkowski - seemed like he had a deal to go back to Japan before Doosan snapped him up off waivers from SK
Rick Guttormson - Orix is looking at bringing Gutto back from Korea; has an NPB no-hitter to his name
Brad Thomas - Thomas has spent the last year or two in Korea, is on Hanshin’s list
Gary Glover – Yet another NPB vet in Korea, Glover had previously pitched for Yomiuri
Mitch Jones - didn’t get a chance in his stint with Nippon Ham, hit 35 home runs in the hitter-friendly PCL this year
Val Pascucci – has been productive in three AAA seasons since returning from his stint with Chiba Lotte
Buddy Carlyle - has been better with Atlanta than he was with Hanshin during the early 00’s
Winston Abreu - lit up AAA again this year, got lit up in the majors; did well in his tenure with Lotte
Kim Dong-Ju – Lotte is reportedly ready to jump on a plan and sign this guy once the FA season opens
Kim Tae-Gyun – Hanshin was scouting Korea over the summer, and this Kim was a name that showed up in reports
Lee Beom-Ho- ditto for Lee
Termel Sledge – won’t be back with Nippon Ham next year; Yokohama, SoftBank reportedly interested
Greg LaRocca – has been productive when healthy, could get a shot somewhere else if Orix chooses not to retain his services
Dan Johnson – batting average side, put in a productive year for Yokohama, still wasn’t retained
Seth Greisinger – has put up three good years in Japan, may not fit into Yomiuri’s plans for next year; Hanshin would gladly take him
Brian Sikorski – posted a great year for Lotte; if they don’t keep him, Yokohama is interested
Mike Hessman - tenured AAA slugger, doesn’t hit for average but walks and has a power bat
Lenny DiNardo – coming off a great AAA season, has never been able to strike MLB hitters out
Bobby Korecky – reliever with nothing left to prove at AAA
Kevin Frandsen – doesn’t fit the power-hitting mold NPB teams usually like, but can play multiple positions and hit for average
Matt Murton – another sharp hitter who has mastered AAA pitching
Chris Shelton – has had two productive MLB seasons, continues to perform at AAA
Brad Eldred – another veteran AAA slugger, though his average has dropped in the last few years
Wily Mo Pena - I thought he was on his way to Japan when the Mets released him during the season
Charlie Haeger - has come up on Hanshin’s list
Rich Hill - he has a Japan-style curveball
Jason Dubois – perhaps the most well-rounded of the AAA sluggers I’ve listed here, Dubois hits for reasonable average and gets on base, at least at AAA
Scott Strickland – was good with the Expos a few years ago, hasn’t gotten another chance
Evan MacLane – rumor is that he’s headed to Japan rather than resigning with the Cardinals
Fringey MLB Guys
Marcus Thames - Hanshin was interested in him a few years ago, but Detroit held on to him and he played pretty well
Eric Hinske – SoftBank was interested last year, and is again this year
Chris Bootcheck – has the velocity to succeed in Japan
Denny Bautista – another hard thrower who’s bounced between AAA and MLB
One of the fringe benefits Hanshin trying to get out of bringing in Kenji Johima is some additional scouting intelligence on pitchers in MLB organizations. Aside from Jeff Williams, Hanshin’s only sustained import success over the last several years has been righty Scott Atchison, who is leaving the team this offseason. After Atchison, Jerrod Riggan was good while he lasted and Darwin Cubillan had his moments, but that’s pretty much where it ends.
Sports Hochi Osaka has a list of candidates Hanshin is looking at, compiled presumably with Joh’s input:
I can’t believe that the Mariners would move Rowland-Smith, but Hanshin has the right idea with him. Carrasco spent a year in Japan with SoftBank and didn’t have a favorable experience, so I’d be surprised if he came back. Jakubauskas and Keppel sound about right.
Sanspo adds a few more names to the list, most of which we’ve seen before:
Jo Jo Reyes
The only new name on this list is Haeger, who is an interesting candidate. We don’t see a lot of knuckleballers in NPB.
In related news, Hanshin has announced that they are cutting ties with Jeff Williams, Scott Atchison, Kevin Mench and Aarom Baldiris, while moving to retain Craig Brazell and Kai-Wen Cheng. None of this is really news either, except that Williams has come out and said that he wants to return to the team after rehabbing for the next year. He’ll be about 40 if he can return in 2011, but here’s hoping he can come back and end his career properly.
Sanspo is reporting on Hanshin’s import pitching shopping list, and is naming names. Tigers manager Akinobu Mayumi says that Hanshin is after two middle relievers and one starter, to fill in for the departing Scott Atchison and Jeff Williams.
The names we have are:
Adrian Burnside (recently released by Yomiuri)
Brad Thomas (two-year Japan veteran, had been in Korea)
Jo Jo Reyes (Atlanta Braves)
Wil Ledezma (Washington Nationals)
Juan Morillo (Minnesota Twins)
Bob Keppel (Minnesota Twins)
Burnside didn’t appear at all with Yomiuri’s top team this year, so you’d have to figure he’d be a low-risk, low-investment type of signing. Thomas probably fits into the same category.
Reyes is an interesting name. He’s still pretty young, and I had the impression that he was a decent prospect for the Braves at one point. Morillo, as I recall from his time with the Rockies, is a hard thrower with bad command. I don’t know much about the other guys.
Two guys I’d like to see get a shot in Japan, with Hanshin or elsewhere, are Lenny DiNardo and Bobby Korecky. I couldn’t understand why DiNardo didn’t get more of a look in Oakland, when I saw him I thought he could contribute in the bigs (though I didn’t realize he had such a troubling k/bb rate). And Korecky is a guy who I haven’t seen, but has performed consistently well in the minors but never gotten a real shot to last in MLB.
The news about Hanshin’s list of offseason acquisition targets is flying fast and furious. It kind of reminds me of this old Onion article. Here’s what I’ve seen so far.
Via NPB Free Agency…
Shugo Fujii (Nippon Ham) — this probably makes the most sense of any of these acquisitions. Fujii wouldn’t make the Tigers a championship club on his own though
Hiroyuki Kobayashi (Lotte) — another rather low risk, medium reward type
GG Sato (Seibu) — coming off a career year
Shunsuke Watanabe (Lotte) — can’t see Lotte moving him, but would be interesting to see how he adjusts to the Central League
Nagisa Arakaki (SoftBank) — one of my favorite pitchers, but has been hurt for the last two years
Brad Thomas (Korea, Hanwha Eagles) — former Nippon Ham Fighter
Rick Guttoromson (Korea, Kia Tigers) — Sports Hochi reported on him and Thomas
Kim Tae-Gyun (Korea, Hanwha Eagles) — Matt tipped me off to this info on Kim
Lee Bum-Ho (Korea, Hanwha Eagles) — Matt also pointed out that if the already last-place Hanwha loses all these guys, they might as well field a him of himself, me and Shinsano
Possible MLB Returnees…
Hideki Matsui (NY Yankees) – has been speculated over since the summer, seems like Matsui will get chances to stay in MLB
Masahide Kobayashi (ex Cleveland Indians) — makes sense, I wonder if they went after him during the season
Kenji Johjima (Seattle Mariners) — reports in the Japanese media say that he has an escape clause in his contract allowing him to return to Japan. Cot’s knows nothing about this. Hanshin is said to be prepared to offer 500m yen annually (about $5m), so for this to work Joh would have to take a pay cut, and the Mariners would have to not convince him to stay
Akinori Iwamura (Tampa Bay Rays) — saw some speculation about this a week or two ago, Iwamura didn’t say much other than that he would go where he was evaluated the most highly
There are also reports that Hanshin is going to be looking to the US market as usual, but I haven’t seen any legitimate names published yet. Hanshin sent team president Nobuo Minami to the States this season in an effort to learn how to evaluate US-based players. In the process, he had his picture taken with Bobby Cox, and met with the GMs of the Braves, Yankees, Mets, as well as front office personnel from the Red Sox.
What do NPB fans think? Would any of these moves make Hanshin the team to beat next year?