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Despite my best efforts, there is a reasonable probability that I left someone out or have an out-of-date detail.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.
Okay, so now that the regular season is in the books, let’s take a look and see how my Central League and Pacific League predictions played out. We’ll take a look at the Central first and do the Pacific in the next post.
(listed in order of actual results, my predictions are in parentheses)
1. Yomiuri Giants (2) — I picked the Giants to finish second. In 2008 Hanshin led for most of the year, before choking down the stretch, and I thought they’d make it this year. I was dead wrong about that, and the Giants wound up dominating from wire to wire. I thought someone from the secondary group of pitchers would have to step up, but the guys who did weren’t among my three breakout candidates (Kentaro Nishimura, Shun Tohno, and Takahiko Nomaguchi) — they were Yakult castoff Dicky Gonzales and Dominican prospect Wirfin Obispo.
2. Chunichi Dragons (5) — I was way off here. Chunichi put up a mediocre year in 2008, and lost three key contributors (Kenshin Kawakami, Nori Nakamura, Tyrone Woods) and I thought we’d see them slip further this year. Turns out I didn’t respect the Dragons’ depth highly enough. I did, however, correctly identify two of the key players for the Dragons this season, choosing Tony Blanco and Kazuki Yoshimi along with rookie Kei Nomoto. Nomoto was a bit of a disappointment, but Blanco and Yoshimi were outstanding.
3. Yakult Swallows (4) — Yakult took a step forward in 2009, sneaking in to the playoffs despite finishing one game under .500. Norichika Aoki overcame a horrific first half to finish at .303, and Aaron Guiel bounced back from a sub-par 2008 to hit 27 home runs. Two of my key players — Jaime D’Antona (.276, 21 hr) and Yoshinori (121 IP, 3.50 ERA)– were solid, while the other Tatsunori Masubuchi (one game, 12.60 era) was not. Yakult did get outscored by their opponents by 48 runs this year.
4. Hanshin Tigers (1) — My key players, Takahiro Arai and Kevin Mench, failed to meet expectations, and so did the Tigers. Mench’s time in Japan was particularly disastrous, flaming out after only 15 games. Hanshin’s trio of veterans Tomoaki Kanemoto, Akihiro Yano and Tsuyoshi Shimoyanagi started to show some signs of aging as well.
5. Hiroshima Carp (3) –The step forward I envisioned after a solid 2008 season didn’t materialize for the Carp, despite the good vibes from the beautiful new Mazda Stadium. The rotation was solid 1-3 and the Carp added American sluggers Scott McClain and Andy Phillips mid-season, but it wasn’t enough to win consistently. My key player, Kenta Maeda, was better than his 8-14 record would indicate.
6. Yokohama BayStars (6) — The one prediction I nailed, except that I thought they’d be a little more competitive this year. Wrong. Yokohama was again a doormat, suffering to the tune of a .354 winning percentage, getting outscored by 188 runs and losing it’s manager in the process. My key man, Hayato Terahara, was limited to 83 innings of work.
Synopsis: I guess I was close enough on everything except Chunichi and Hanshin.I thought the league would be a little more competitive, but the way things played out Yomiuri and Chunichi were way ahead of everyone else.
Compared to the many moves and much rumbling near the MLB trade deadline, the deadline in NPB ended quietly. There was a total of one trade during the 2009 season which was Taiyo Fujita being traded from Hanshin to Seibu for Keisuke Mizuta, a minor move where both teams filled supporting roles.
The numbers after the trade…
Taiyo Fujita (Seibu Lions) – 2.0 innings, ER, K (two games): 4.50ERA
Keisuke Mizuta (Hanshin Tigers)- Strikeout in one-at-bat
As you can see from the numbers both players have made minimal impact with their new teams. Rather than teams looking to add the last piece for a championship run near the deadline in the MLB, it’s more of two teams allowing their player to join a team with more possibilities. More teams look to add a suketto as seven foreign players were added by teams since the 2009 season started. However they tend to give chances to players that have already experienced the NPB culture as they feel comfortable adding an experienced player during mid-season where time for adjustment is limited.
The number of teams might limit the number of trades in the NPB (12 compared to MLB’s 30), but a culture of trading players are relatively new and there has been limited number of “blockbuster” trades in the league. The one that comes up to mind is a swap between Hayato Terahara for Hitoshi Tamura, a trade between a former first-round draft pick and a home run king.
The trade deadline is a big event for everybody involved in the MLB and headlines evolve daily with rumors and potential deals. It creates stories and news that people talk about around the water coolers and peoples’ interest increases during the period of time. It should not be a bad thing for the NPB if people start engaging talks about the game and trades becoming more of a common business. However the difference in the culture of the games allows the transactions after the season starts to be limited and with only 12 teams and six of them facing each other about 20 times a season, it’s extremely difficult for teams deal players that might hurt them in the future.
According to links found on Yahoo Japan, Hiroshima is making some moves with its foreign roster. Righthanded reliever Scott Dohmannhas been released. Dohmann had posted a 17.28 in 16 games with the Carp.
Word from the Kyodo grapevine is that the Carp are also looking to import Andy Phillips, who spent time in the White Sox system this season but is currently a free agent. Phillips would be the Carp’s third foreign corner infielder, joining Scott McClain and Scott Seabol. The two Scotts are struggling with identical .216 averages, but then again no one on the Carp is hitting. One of them figures to lose roster time if Phillips joins the team. The Carp have had bad luck with guys named Scott this year.
Like Todd Linden, Phillips is a 4A guy who I always thought would end up in Japan. But Wily Mo Pena was released by the Mets yesterday, and I’d like to see what he could do in Japan. Certainly he’s shown more power at the MLB level than Phillips.
Let’s take a look at how actively teams are spending on foreign players. Each NPB team is allowed to only have four foreign players on its 25-man roster, but there is no organizational limit on foreign players. Many teams choose to hold more, and allow them to compete for a roster spots. As you can see in the rankings, many teams are unable to maxmimize the foreign player slots on their 25-man roster.
Out of 39 foreign players on NPB 25-man rosters, 13 have previous experience in Japan with a different team. In-season additions like Jose Ortiz for the Softbank Hawks and Scott McClain by the Hiroshima Toyo Carp are two recent examples of this, showing how teams are more likely to take a risk on a player that knows Japanese baseball rather than looking for new talent overseas.
Scott McClain has agreed to terms with the Carp. He gets a one-year contract that will pay him about $200k plus performance bonuses. He’ll wear number 90 for the Carp.
Kevin Mench is ready to begin his “rehab assignment” with the Tigers’ farm team. Sanspo quotes him as saying, “it was good to get a rest for three days. I was able to clear my head and relax my body”. Mench will get together with Hanshin farm team manager Katsuo Hirata on the 27th to get together on a plan.
The Hiroshima Carp are looking to import some righthanded power in veteran slugger Scott McClain. Negotiations are reportedly going well and McClain is expected to head across the Pacific in May.
McClain is kind of a story of perseverance; he hit his first MLB home runs last year with the Giants at age 36. He has some NPB experience, having spent parts of four seasons with the Seibu Lions in the early 00’s. The Carp had pretty good results with their last veteran suketto acquisition (Alex Ochoa) and McClain figures to be a solid addition to their lineup.
The Yankees sent exec Gene Michael on scouting trip to Japan. The usual suspects are named in the article: Koji Uehara, Kenshin Kawakami and Hitoki Iwase. I suspect Michael might have a look at Junichi Tazawa as well.
Junichi Tazawa continues to impress both Japanese and American scouts, this time with 2 2/3 innings of perfect relief in Eneos’s 1-0 win over JFE in the Industrial League Tokyo Intercity Baseball Tournament. Scouts from the Yokohama BayStars, Yankees, and Pirates as well as Braves GM Frank Wren were in attendance. When asked about Tazawa, Yankees scout Kida commented, “please ask Cashman”.
Orix has gone on a tear and gotten themselves all the way into 2nd place in the Pacific League. This has pleased team owner Miyauchi, who commented: “the team is clicking” (note: that’s a very loose translation).
However, assuming Orix makes the playoffs they’ll have to compete without retiring slugger Kazuhiro Kiyohara, who intends to stop playing after his October 1 retirement ceremony. I’ve never been a Kiyohara fan, but I’d like to see him go out on a high note.