Coming: Chad Tracy, Dennis Sarfate, Bryan Bullington, Kiyoshi Toyoda, Tsuyoshi Kikuchihara
Going: Jeff Fiorentino, Justin Huber, Vinnie Chulk, Eric Stults, John Bale, Ken Takahashi, Shinjiro Kojima, Hayato Aoki
Staying: Gio Alvarado, Mike Schultz, Dioni Soriano
Summary: Perhaps the biggest story of Hiroshima’s offseason was the players they didn’t land. The Carp tried unsuccessfully to lure Hiroki Kuroda back in the mix, and lost out to Softbank for prized free agent Seiichi Uchikawa, despite his wife being a Koi fan.
Having lost out on the two Japanese stars, most of Hiroshima’s reinforcements for 2011 are of the suketto variety. Out goes the ineffective group of Fiorentino, Huber, Stults, Bale and Chulk; in come newcomers Tracy, Bullington and Sarfate joing holdovers Alvarado, Schultz and Soriano. The headliner of this year’s import class is Tracy, the Carp’s highest paid and most accomplished first year import. The other five members of Hiroshima’s foreign roster are all pitchers, and will have to compete amongst themselves for the three remaining ichi-gun spots.
The fact that Soriano is lefthanded may give him a little bit of an edge on the somewhat lefty-thin Carp, but what the team really needs is quality innings. Last season, only Yokohama’s dreadful performance saved Hiroshima from having the least effective staff in Japan. Despite the presence of Sawamura Award winner Kenta Maeda, the Carp surrendered 737 runs in 2010; the next worst was Seibu with 642. Losing Colby Lewis hurt, but so did the fact that eight of the 13 pitchers who threw at least 30 innings for the Carp had an ERA of 5.00 or higher. Getting 150 or so innings of 4.00 ball out of Bullington or Alvarado would go along way for the Carp. So would healthy returns from Kan Ohtake and Katsuhiro Nagakawa. The Carp also spent their first four draft picks on hard-throwing, older prospects last year, so one of them may pay early dividends.
At the plate, Hiroshima managed to finish fourth in the Central League in run production in 2010, despite hitting the fewest home runs. What they lacked in power, they made up for by leading the league in steals with 119, and striking out less than any team other than Yakult. Since Tracy is the only significant lineup change for 2011, expect to see more of the same this season.
Overall I like the group that Hiroshima will field this year better than last year’s, but I don’t see how they make the playoffs without one of the other teams faltering significantly.