A few notes covering the last couple days of news…
New Hiroshima Carp acquisition Brian Bardenused Twitter to collect information on NPB prior to heading to Japan. Barden “tweets” under the handle @thegreatbardeni.
Akinori Otsuka wants to make a comeback. The 39 year-old righty hasn’t pitched in the Majors in four years, over which time he’s had three Tommy John surgeries. Otsuka is currently coaching and throwing bullpen sessions with Samurai All-Japan of the Western Baseball Association.
Hisashi Iwakuma is back after a two-month layoff. He won his return start with seven strong innings over Softbank.
Craig Brazell lined up rookie Issei Morita the other day with a shaving cream pie in the face during a post-game interview. Here’s the approach… and the delivery.
Number has an article on the trade rumors surrounding Hiroki Kuroda. For the most part it’s nothing you can’t find in the American press, but Kuroda does comment that it “took him three years to get used to the Majors.”
It’s been a while. Here is a random collection of news articles I’ve read recently and found interesting enough to share.
Fresh off his release from the Red Sox, Itsuki Shoda is headed to Niigata of the independent BC League.
Yusei Kikuchi has made Seibu’s opening day roster, and will start the year in middle relief. He’s also working on a two-seam fastball and a changeup, and hit 155 km/h on the gun in a bullpen session.
Hanshin’s opening day starter? Hasn’t been announced, but lefty Atsushi Nohmi is reportedly in the mix. I can’t see why it wouldn’t be Yasutomo Kubo.
Osamu Hamanaka is surprisingly a candidate to hit third for Yakult. Hamanka was a good hitter early in his career with Hanshin, but he’s been badly derailed by injuries. Perhaps he’ll experience a Ken Suzuki-style resurgence with Yakult; it is the time of year for optimism.
Yu Darvish has been experimenting again with a one-seam fastball, and broke Seiichi Uchikawa’s bat with one in a full count on the 6th. I had thought the one-seam was something new that Darvish invented, but the Nikkan Sports article I linked to says that Tim Hudson and Joel Pineiro throw it. Daigo Fujiwara posted a great summary of the pitch last August.
Yokohama’s Brent Leach has decided not to return to Japan, and the BayStars have classified him as a “restricted player” (seigen senshu). According to Nikkan Sports, the restricted player designation was established in 1998, and is intended for players who are taking a personal break from baseball activities. Leach is the first player classified as restricted since the rule’s inception.
Former Chiba Lotte Marines pitchers Tomohiro “Johnny” Kuroki and Satoru Komiyama will be raising a rice field with fans in Sodegaura, Chiba this year.
And in a site announcement, I’d like to officially welcome our newest writer to NPB Tracker, Adam Burton. Adam is a translator based in the Kansai region of Japan, and has kicked off his NPB Tracker career with a couple MLB updates. Needless to say, we’re happy to have him on board.
Staying: Hiroyuki Nakajima, Jose Fernandez, Dee Brown, Brian Sikorski, Alex Graman
Summary: This series is titled “Offseason Chages”, but the Lions haven’t given me much to write about. Seibu let defensively-minded catcher Toru Hosokawa take his .191 batting average south to Fukuoka, and will let Ginjiro Sumitani and Tatsuyuki Uemoto carry the load. They also swapped righty relievers with Yokohama, picking up Yataro Sakamoto. Beyond that, the Lions replaced some bit players with 2010 draftees.
The real keys Seibu’s offseason are in the players who will be returning. Denying Hiroyuki Nakajima’s repeated posting requests is addition by not subtracting. The rest is mostly addition by health. Slugger Takeya “Okawari-kun” Nakamura was never really healthy last year, but still popped 25 home runs. #2 starter Takayuki Kishi missed all of July and August last year. The low-profile but highly-productive bat of mid-season signing Jose Fernandez will be available from opening day. 2011 Sophomore Yusei Kikuchi lost a year of development, making only two ni-gun appearances . And even Alex Graman, who was lights-out as a reliever but has been shelved for two years, is back. Obviously some of those guys are going to contribute more than others, but healthy seasons from Kishi and Okawari-kun alone would add a couple wins to the bottom line.
The underlying fact is that this is a talented group that didn’t need much tweaking to remain competitive in 2011. The Lions took a magic number of four into the last week of the 2010 season, and won more games than anyone else in the Pacific League; if they had managed just one more tie, they would have taken first place. Just three games separated the first and fourth teams in the PL last year, and I expect things to be similarly tight this season.
A couple more signings to pass along tonight. All source content is in Japanese.
The Chiba Lotte Marines have announced the signing of Orioles farmhand Bob McCrory. McCrory is expected to help fill the void left by departing closer Hiroyuki Kobayashi. He was quoted as saying, “for my style, I feel that I’m the type that attacks batters with a fastball and a good sinker. I will do my best to show all the Marines fans my best performance.” McCrory has done a good job limiting home runs in the minors, which backs up his climb of having a good sinker.
The ink is dry on Marcos Vechionacci’sikusei deal with Hanshin. Vechionacci gets a 6m yen signing bonus, a 4m yen salary, and number 128.
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
By my count, there were 78 foreign players (including ikusei players) under contract to NPB teams in 2009. Some of them will be back for 2010, others will not. So far, I’ve counted 18 players that will remain with their teams for next year, 36 that are leaving, and 24 that we’re still waiting to hear on.
Despite my best efforts, there is a reasonable probability that I left someone out or have an out-of-date detail. If you spot something of that nature, please leave a comment. On with the show…
Staying: Dicky Gonzales, Wirfin Obispo, Levi Romero, Alex Ramirez, Seung-Yeop Lee, Marc Kroon
Gone: Adrian Burnside, Edgardo Alfonzo
Unknown: Seth Greisinger, Yi-Hao Lin, Yi-Fan Lee
Ramirez no longer counts against the foreign player limit, which gives the Giants a little extra flexibility. He’s already re-signed on a two-year deal. You have to figure that Obispo and Gonzales will be back, which would only leave two ichi-gun rosters spots available. I would guess that Kroon is more likely to return than Greisinger, and Lee is on his way out. Kroon will have his option picked up, while Lee’s contract doesn’t expire until next season. Greisinger didn’t appear in the Japan Series and it’s possible that he won’t be back. The Giants don’t need much this off season, though we’ll probably see them go after some depth guys.
Staying: Wei-Yin Chen, Tony Blanco, Nelson Payano, Maximo Nelson
Gone: Tomas de la Rosa, Byung-Gyu Lee
Chunichi got outstanding production out Chen and Blanco, and Blanco has already received a new two-year deal. Lee will likely head back to Korea, while de la Rosa will remain with the team in a scouting/advisory capacitiy. Chunichi has been scouting the Dominican and will probably sign some interesting Latin American prospects this winter.
Staying: Chang Yong Lim
Gone: Ricky Barrett
Unknown: Hei Chun Lee, Jaime D’Antona, Aaron Guiel
Staying: Kai-Wang Cheng
Gone: Scott Atchison, Jeff Williams, Kevin Mench, Chris Resop, Aarom Baldiris
Unknown: Craig Brazell
Out of this group, only Brazell really contributed anything, and he wants to come back. Hanshin’s search for pitching has already been well-documented, with the Tigers looking to import a starter and two relievers. Hanshin may also try to bring a power-hitting rightfielder to Kansai as well, even if Brazell sticks around.
Staying: Dioni Soriano
Gone: Scott Dohmann, Ben Kozlowski, Scott Seabol
Unknown: Scott McClain, Colby Lewis, Mike Schultz, Andy Phillips
Hiroshima would like to keep Lewis and Schultz around, but may not be able to, and if the Carp don’t keep Phillips they will have to find a bat to replace him. Hiroshima desperately needs lefthanded pitching, as well. I’m assuming Soriano, who is an ikusei player from the Carp’s Dominican Academy, will get a full year to prove himself.
Staying: Stephen Randolph
Gone: Tom Mastny, Les Walrond, Dan Johnson, Ryan Glynn
Unknown: Wei Chen, Jin Chao Wang
Yokohama is again going to need pitching help, though Randolph’s late-season performance was encouraging. The ‘Stars wave goodbye the rest of this group, though Johnson actually had a decent year aside from a poor batting average, and Walrond looked like he had good enough stuff to last in Japan to me.
Gone: Ryan Wing, Luis Jimenez, Jason Botts, Brian Sweeney, Termel Sledge
This year’s Pacific League champion didn’t get much production from its foreign lineup outside of Sledge, so it’s no surprise to see this group go. Nippon Ham apparently wanted to keep Sledge, but were too far apart in negotations. They’ll have to find a way to replace his bat in the lineup, and I would expect them to look for pitching depth as well.
Gone: Matt Childers
Unknown: Darrell Rasner, Marcus Gwyn, Fernando Seguignol, Todd Linden, Rick Short, On-Yu Lin
Rasner is already under contract for next year, so he’ll be on the payroll but possibly not the roster. Childers is gone after just three appearances with Rakuten’s top team. The rest of the foreign staff had performance issues — Gwyn’s era was pedestrian, Shorts average fell off after years of solid performance, Seguignol looked more like the Orix Seguignol than the Nippon Ham Seguignol, and Linden struck out about one out of every three times to the plate(!). So I could see new manager Marty Brown turning over this whole group. Rakuten could use bullpen help and a big bat to play an infield or outfield corner.
Staying: Jose Ortiz, DJ Houlton, Brian Falkenborg, Justin Germano
Gone: Kameron Loe, Chris Aguila
Unknown: Andrew Touisant
SoftBank got strong contributions from Ortiz, Houlton and Falkenborg, and can reasonably expect more of the same next season. Sadaharu Oh is said to be looking for one more power hitter, to complement Ortiz and supplant aging sluggers Hiroki Kokubo and Nobuhiko Matsunaka. I would expect them to grab a couple of ptichers for depth as well.
Staying: Min-Che Hsu
Gone: Jonah Bayliss, John Wasdin, Hiram Bocachica
Unknown: Alex Graman
I’m just taking for granted that Hsu will hang around. He should be shedding his foreign player status one of these years anyway. Graman is probably gone, though he was lights-out in the bullpen when healthy, and I could see him getting another shot. Bayliss was okay for Seibu, so I was a little surprised to see him let go. Seibu will be looking for bullpen help and perhaps a first baseman this offseason. Pete LaForest had been in Seibu’s autumn camp but went home with an injury.
Gone: Benny Agbayani, Chase Lambin, Gary Burnham
Unknown: Brian Sikorski, Juan Muniz
Agbayani departs after six years in Japan, and I would guess that he’ll retire to a life of scouting. I’ve read that Lotte might offer Sikorski a big pay cut, and thus risk losing him. I don’t expect Lambin or Burnham to be back, though I haven’t seen anything official. Lambin and Burnham won’t be back. Lotte will need a corner infield and outfield bats, and a pitcher or two to round things out.
Staying: Tuffy Rhodes
Unknown: Jon Leicester, Alex Cabrera, Jose Fernandez, Greg LaRocca, Ryan Vogelsong
Rhodes and Cabrera both qualify as native players, so Orix could potentially carry up to six ‘foreign’ players on its active roster. Rhodes will be back, and the Buffaloes are supposedly adding a coaching title to his resume. I think Cabrera will make it back as well. There was speculation on Fernandez when he got hurt was that Orix probably wouldn’t bring him back, but that remains to be seen. I’m guessing Leicester and Vogelsong will be out as well. SoftBank has indicated an interest in LaRocca should he not get another year with Orix.
Some notes about foreign player movement this offseason, mostly featuring the Chiba Lotte Marines:
Pete Laforest had a tryout with the Seibu Lions, the results of which will be announced in a few days. Laforest has spent the last few years in the Mexican League. It’s rare for NPB teams to go after import catchers, so I’m wondering how Laforest would fit on to the Lions’ roster.
More from Lotte: the team is looking at bringing former Marine and Hawk Julio Zuleta back to Japan. He’ll have a tryout in early November, and if he passes, the team will look at him as a low-budget option ($300k) for next year. Zuleta struggled in the Mexican League in 2009.
Yeet more from Lotte: the Marines are again looking at Korean slugger Kim Dong Ju this offseason. Kim has been trying to sign with an NPB club for years, and Bobby wanted to bring him to Chiba last season, but got denied by the front office.
Synopsis: Iguchi is an upgrade over Ortiz, and the combination of Lambin/Burnham should be more productive than the injury-prone Julio Zuleta. None of Lotte’s major Japanese free agency-eligible players chose to sign elsewhere for Bobby Valentine’s final season.