With spring training a mere two weeks away, NPB teams are largely done making offseason roster moves. But Buster Olney’s observation that there are a number of established MLB players that are still available on the free agent market got me wondering if any would be fits in Japan. Here’s what I came up with:
Kosuke Fukudome – There has been surprisingly little discussion of a Fukudome return in the Japanese media, the only rumor of note being that Hanshin was considering him as a replacement for Matt Murton, who they successfully re-signed.
Kenshin Kawakami — Kawakami’s name has been similarly absent in the Japanese media this offseason. The only news I’ve seen on him is from his personal blog, saying he’s begun working out and hasn’t decided on a team for 2012 yet. It’s reasonable to assume that most NPB rotations would benefit from having him around.
Derrek Lee – Had they not already signed Josh Whitesell, Lee might have been a first base match for Lotte, an organization that once employed his father and uncle (Leon Lee and Leron Lee). Derrek spent part of his youth in Japan.
Marcus Thames — Thames has appeared on NPB team’s foreign player candidate lists in the past, but surprising he’s only gotten one previous mention on this site. Power was the rarest skill in Japan last year, and Thames has shown plenty at both the 3A and MLB level.
Bill Hall — Hall is something of a personal favorite; I thought he would have a better MLB career than he’s had. He still has at least two solid strengths – a power bat and a strong throwing arm – that match up with teams in need of third base help (Yokohama?).
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
So we know at this point that SoftBank is looking to import a bat toward the end of spring training. Takeuchi-COO, if you’re your listening, here are a few options:
Dallas McPherson, 3B, Florida Marlins — hit 42 bombs in AAA last year.
Andy Marte, 3B, Cleveland Indians — former top prospect cleared waivers and is headed back to AAA.
Mike Hessman, 1B/3B, Detroit Tigers — quad-A type, hit for consistent power in AAA for the last seven years but hasn’t won an MLB job. Doesn’t hit for much average.
Craig Brazell, 1B/DH, Baltimore Orioles — SoftBank apparently passed on him after Seibu let him go last offseason, but he showed power in Japan last year. Probably needs an injury to make the MLB team.
Jeff Bailey, 1B/OF, Boston Red Sox — been pretty good in AAA the last few years.
Scott Thorman, 1B, Milwaukee Brewers — got a shot with the Braves but didn’t hit. Has been pretty good in the minors, looks like another quad-A guy.
Nelson Cruz, OF, Texas Rangers — the Hawks tried to get him twice last year. Even if Texas is willing to let him go, he won’t get through waivers. Still, SoftBank can dream.