Tag Archive > Takashi Saito

Okajima, Kobayashi Added to Provisional WBC Roster

» 20 January 2009 » In international baseball, mlb, nichibei » 2 Comments

Looking to reinforce it’s pitching staff after Takashi Saito and Hiroki Kuroda opted not to participate, Japan has added MLB relievers Hideki Okajima and Masa Kobayashi to it’s provisional WBC roster. Lotte infielder Tsuyoshi Nishioka and one of my favorites Hayato Terahara were among the other notables added in the most recently announced roster.

And of course, the WBC will afford international fans the opportunity to see Yu Darvish and Norichika Aoki live against top level competition. Mainichi has the complete provisional roster published in Japanese, but I haven’t found the latest version in English. I’ll translate Mainichi’s later tonight if an English version hasn’t shown up by then.

NPB players also appear on provisional rosters for Australia, Canada, Korea, Taiwan, Venezuela, and Panama.

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Free Agent Roundup

» 05 January 2009 » In mlb, npb » 4 Comments

It’s the first week of January and none of the major Japanese free agents have found MLB homes yet. Let’s check in on a few of them:

  • The Japanese press picked up on a Boston Globe article suggesting that the Red Sox had offered Takashi Saito a contract shortly after he was non-tendered by LA. Nikkan Sports adds that he got a deluge of almost 10 offers in December, including one from the Cardinals. Nikkan Sports suggests that he’ll be able to beat the $2.5m the Dodgers offered, and will spend the early part of the year narrowing down his options.
  • Outfielder Tatsuya Ozeki is yet another minor league-level guy eyeing a move to the States. Ozeki actually signed a minor league deal with Milwaukee after the 2005 season, but never played in America as the Brewers had used up their allotment of work visa applications. You can read more about Ozeki at the BR Bullpen.
  • But wait, there’s more! Former Chiba Lotte pitcher Ryohei Tanaka is still another minor leaguer trying out for the American minor leagues. Tanaka will be heading to America on the 8th for private instruction from pitching guru Tom House and tryouts. He doesn’t have the same level of experience as Ozeki.
  • Ken Takahashi might be starting to sweat a little bit. He’s quoted in the Chugoku Shimbun as saying, “I can’t see anything ahead.” The article also reports that he spoke to agent Peter Greenberg once at the of 2008, but they didn’t have anything concrete to talk about. Sponichi reminds us that the Mets and Cubs were publicly interested last year, but haven’t yet talked terms with Takahashi.
  • Ryan Glynn to the Yokohama BayStars is a done deal. Glynn signed on for a year at $900k.
  • And finally, the Orix Buffaloes are still looking to add a foreign position player. Said team president Nakamura: “this isn’t a sweet world where we can assume this year will be good because last year was. We still need to rely on foreign players”. Nikkan Sports has Orix looking at Jose Fernandez and Richard Hidalgo. Acquring them both would give Orix four foreign position players (Tuffy Rhodes has played in Japan for so long that he no longer counts as a foreign player), though Greg LaRocca and presumably Hidalgo would be injury risks. 
Strangely absent from media reports is Koji Uehara. I wonder what’s going on with him these days?

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The Effects of NPB Players Leaving for MLB, part 4

» 03 January 2009 » In nichibei, npb » 2 Comments

Time to close out this series with some conclusions. I fear that I may be oversimplifying this a bit, but I’m looking for macro trends with this. These are casual observations, I didn’t do any hard research. 

Check the three previous installments here: 1, 2, 3. 

1. Most of the teams that lost a star to MLB took some kind of a hit in the standings. With the exception of Hiroshima, the teams losing the top 10 players listed below took years to replace the production they lost. Some of the teams still haven’t replaced the production they lost. It’s also important to remember that none of these departures happened in a vacuum; there were other things that affected the performance of each team, but overall the lose of these players has hurt their former teams competitively.

2. The only team that really took a popularity hit after losing a star to MLB was the Giants after losing Matsui. I bought walk-up tickets to a Giants game in 2005, which would have been unthinkable a few years earlier. Of course, while the Giants were down, the Tigers and Dragons were both up and have enjoyed competitive success and popularity since the early part of the decade. SoftBank has been less competitive since losing Johjima, but has not suffered at the gate. The team is actually adding 6000 seats to the Yahoo Dome for next season to help meet demand. 

3. Signing foreign talent to replace departed stars doesn’t seem to work. Teams will often sign foreign players to fill the holes left by departed stars, but when the do so, they’re losing the opportunity to add depth at other positions with those roster spots. I can’t think of an example where a foreign star was a long-term replacement for an MLB bound star. Colby Lewis was great as Hiroki Kuroda’s replacement in 2008, but so was Kevin Hodges a few years ago and he flamed out after a single season.

4. Losing talent to MLB has a trickle-down impact on the smaller market teams. As an example, Hanshin may have been content with their outfield had Shinjo stuck around, but two years after he left they signed Tomoaki Kanemoto away from the Carp to play left field. Kanemoto has gone on to become a legend for the Tigers while the Carp have only recently begun to show signs of life. Hanshin and Yomiuri can spend to fill their holes, while smaller market teams like Hiroshima cannot.

5. On the positive side, stars moving to MLB has opened up (or could potentially open) spots for younger players, in a league where there is no rule 5 draft and blocked prospects and depth guys are seldom traded. We haven’t seen too many cases of prospects jumping in and filling the shoes of the top 10 guys I’ve listed below, but others have stepped in for 11-26.

Overall, I don’t think this trend is killing NPB. Attendance is stable, and Japan Series television ratings were up this year (mostly because the Giants played in it). Many of the players who have made the leap to MLB have actually been pretty successful, which has greatly improved the credibility of NPB overseas. On the downside, the loss of star players has hurt the competitive depth of the affected teams, and led many to question the viability of the league. I seeing the loss of these star players as an “Oakland A’s-ing” of the league — the A’s have gotten by with smart management, an ability to exploit market inefficiencies and a willingness to continually reinvent the team on the field. The A’s style doesn’t translate to the Japanese game completely, but the underlying principles of thrift and creativity are important for a group of teams that generally is not going to compete with MLB financially.

Below is a list of all the players I looked at, ranked in order of how much I think their departure affected their previous team and the league. For me, there are really about three or four classes: Matsui and Johjima, Iwamura through Iguchi, and everyone else. You can possibly put Matsui, Kobayashi and Yabuta in their own class as well, as guys who were quickly replaced but did leave a gap in their absences. 

Rank Player  Team Year Record Before Record After Impact
1 Hideki Matsui Yomiuri 2003 86-52-2 71-66-3 High
2 Kenji Johjima Daiei/SoftBank 2006 89-45-2 75-56-5 High
3 Akinori Iwamura Yakult 2007 70-73-3 60-84-0 High
4 Kosuke Fukudome Chunichi 2008 78-64-2 71-68-5 High
5 Daisuke Matsuzaka Seibu 2007 80-54-2 66-76-2 Medium
6 Ichiro Orix 2001 64-67-4 70-66-4 Medium
7 Hiroki Kuroda Hiroshima 2008 60-82-2 69-70-5 Medium
8 Kei Igawa Hanshin 2007 84-58-4 74-66-4 Medium
9 Kazuhisa Ishii Yakult 2002 78-56-6 72-64-2 Medium
10 Tadahito Iguchi Daiei/Softbank 2005 77-52-4 89-45-2 Medium
11 Kazuo Matsui Seibu 2004 77-61-2 74-58-1 Low
12 Masahide Kobayashi Lotte 2008 76-61-7 73-70-1 Low
13 Yasuhiko Yabuta Lotte 2008 76-61-7 73-70-1 Low
14 Takashi Saito Yokohama 2006 69-70-7 58-84-4 Low
15 Hideki Okajima Nippon Ham 2007 82-54-0 79-60-5 Low
16 Akinori Otsuka Chunichi 2004 73-66-1 79-56-3 Low
17 Shingo Takatsu Yakult 2004 71-66-3 72-62-2 Low
18 Tsuyoshi Shinjyo Hanshin 2001 57-78-1 57-80-3 Low
19 Keiichi Yabu Hanshin 2005 66-70-2 87-54-5 Low
20 So Taguchi Orix 2002 70-66-4 50-87-3 Low
21 Satoru Komiyama Yokohama 2002 69-67-4 49-86-5 Low
22 Kazuo Fukumori Rakuten 2008 67-75-2 65-76-3 Low
23 Norihiro Nakamura Kintetsu 2005 61-70-2 62-70-4 Low
24 Shinji Mori* Seibu 2006 67-69-0 80-54-2 Low
25 Yusaku Iriki* Nippon Ham 2006 62-71-3 82-54-0 Low
26 Masumi Kuwata Yomiuri 2007 65-79-2 80-63-1 Low

* I forgot about both these guys when compiling the original lists. Mori was successfully posted and signed with Tampa Bay, but got hurt in his first spring training and was never heard from again. Iriki played in the Mets and Blue Jays organizations, but got busted for PED usage and never reached the Majors. He resurfaced with Yokohama in 2008, but retired after the season.

** I left out Yukinaga Maeda as well.

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Free Agency Watch: Kawakami, Takahashi, Saito

» 13 December 2008 » In mlb » 11 Comments

Today’s free agency updates…

  • In a reversal of previously published reports, Mets GM Omar Minaya was quoted in Hochi Sports as saying he’s basically thinking of Koji Uehara as a starter, and will negotiate with him as such. Hochi also said the Red Sox are interested, which is the first time I’ve seen them explicitly linked to Uehara.
  • Ken Takahashi’s representatives have talked to about 90% of the MLB teams, and 10 have shown interest. The Mets are favored at this point, and Takahashi wants to decide on a destination by year’s end if possible.

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More MLB Notes

» 10 December 2008 » In mlb » Comments Off on More MLB Notes

Channeling mlbtraderumors for the second straight day…

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The Effects of NPB Players Leaving for MLB, part 2

» 03 December 2008 » In nichibei » 3 Comments

Part two of the series… take a look at part one here.

Part three will look at players that came over from 2001-03, and part four will draw some conclusions from the culmination of the last eight years of player movement.


Takashi Saito (RP, BayStars -> Dodgers): Saito explored a move to the majors after the 2002 season, but didn’t get a satisfactory offer and returned to Yokohama. After three more mediocre seasons by the bay, he decided to give the majors another shot and signed a minor league deal with the Dodgers. He didn’t make the team out of spring training, but got promoted when Eric Gagne was injured and has never looked back. 

Yokohama, meanwhile, has bounced back and forth between near-.500 respectability (2005, 2007) and Central League doormat (2006, 2008). I’m sure Westbaystars-san can better explain why Yokohama has been so manic recently. 

Impact: Low. I don’t think anyone saw Saito’s success in LA coming, as he had never put up such dominant numbers in Japan (MLB K rate: 11.63; NPB K rate 7.63). The impact would have been much greater if Yokohama had been able to get the best out of Saito.

Kenji Johjima (C, Hawks -> Mariners): While SoftBank survived the loss of Tadahito Iguchi, Johjima’s last year in Fukuoka would be the last of the Hawks dynasty that saw five Pacific League 1st place finishes, three Japan Series appearances and two Japan Series Championships between 1999-2005. The team effectively re-tooled around an talented, though inconsistent, rotation featuring Kazumi Saito, Toshiya Sugiuchi, Tsuyoshi Wada, and Nagisa Arakaki, but couldn’t replicate the success of the earlier offense-led dynasty. The Hawks have finished 3rd, 3rd, and 6th in the three years since Johjima’s departure.

Other factors have played roles in SoftBank’s regression — injuries to the pitching staff, sub-par production from guys like Nobuhiko Matsunaka and Hiroshi Tamura, manager Sadaharu Oh’s bout with cancer — but I would suggest that the absence of Johjima’s stabilizing presence behind the plate and in the order had the largest impact.

Impact: High. SoftBank lost an excellent defensive catcher and a mid-lineup slugger that they still haven’t replaced. The Hawks seemed unprepared for Johjima’s departure, as they never seemed to have a reliable backup for him while he was there. SoftBank drafted independent league catcher Hayato Doue in the instructional round of the 2008 draft, so maybe he’ll develop into a decent offensive or defensive catcher.


Tadahito Iguchi (2B, Hawks -> White Sox): The old Daiei management made two moves in the 2004 offseason that significantly weakened their team without getting anything in return. First, they released Iguchi from his contract so that he could pursue an MLB career. Daiei also “traded” star 3B Hiroki Kokubo to Yomiuri for nothing. Yes, nothing. Daiei then got out of the baseball business with the sale of the Hawks to SoftBank.

The departure of Iguchi didn’t have an immediate effect on the Hawks, as they took their third straight 1st place Pacific League finish with an outstanding 89-45-2 record. For the second straight year, however, they lost in the playoffs and failed to reach the Japan Series. Jolbert Cabrera was signed to fill in for Iguchi until reinforcements arrived, and while he spent two years in Fukuoka he was never really as good as Iguchi.

Impact: Medium. Shortstop Munenori Kawasaki effectively took over the infield leadership from Iguchi,but 2005 was the last year of the Hawks’ dynasty. Eventually young infielders Yuichi Honda and Nobuhiro Matsuda emerged, but they still need some time to mature and will probably never be as good as Iguchi was. A double play combination of Kawasaki and Iguchi would have been great to watch as well. Iguchi wasn’t posted, which means that Daiei got nothing in return for him. 

Keiichi Yabu (SP, Tigers -> A’s): Yabu was one of Hanshin’s better starting pitchers during the team’s lean mid-90’s years, but by the time he left for Oakland he was a more of a back of the rotation kind of guy. He seemed have a way to put a string of good starts together, but was injury-prone and a bit inconsistent. 

Impact: Minor. Pitching depth is good in any league but the Tigers still won the Central in 2005. They got destroyed in the Japan Series, but it’s not like Yabu could have prevented that.

Norihiro Nakamura (3B, Buffaloes -> Dodgers): Nori was clearly in decline when he asked the Buffaloes to post him. They happily complied, freeing themselves of his $4.5m salary. He only got a limited look at the MLB level, and failed to impress in the renowned hitter’s paradise in Las Vegas. In 2006 he was back with Orix, where his performance hit bottom. After the ’06 season he negotiated his release after falling out with Orix’s management, then caught on with Chunichi where he rediscovered the plot and managed to win the 2007 Japan Series MVP.

Impact: Very low. I was on the fence about including him in this. Nori’s ups and downs are a good story, but I consider his MLB experiment more of a blip.


Kazuo Matsui (SS, Lions -> Mets): Hiroyuki Nakajima picked up right where ‘LIttle’ Matsui left off, and Seibu went from finishing 5.5 games out in 2003 to winning the Japan Series in 2004. Nakajima also contributed to the Lions’ Series win this past season. 

Impact: Low. Seibu obviously had a capable replacement waiting in the wings in Nakajima. Nakajima hasn’t been quite the perennial MVP candidate that Matsui was, but he’s still been the top shortstop in the Pacific League most seasons since taking over as Seibu’s starter. 

Akinori Otsuka (RP, Dragons -> Padres): The old Kintetsu Buffaloes posted Otsuka after the 2002 season, but there were no takers, so they wound up trading him to Chunichi for cash. After a solid 2003 season, Chunichi posted Otsuka again, and this time San Diego won his rights with a $300k bid. 

Chunichi improved from 2nd in 2003 and 1st in 2004, going on to appear in Japan Series’ in 2004 and 2006, and finally winning in 2007.  One of the team’s strength’s was a deep bullpen, even without Otsuka.

Kintetsu didn’t fare as well. The franchise collapsed under heavy financial losses in 2004, just three years after reaching the Japan Series, and merged with the former Orix Blue Wave franchise. It looked like NPB was at risk for contraction, but the players went on a fan-supported strike and persuaded NPB to admit the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles as an “expansion” team.

Impact: Low. Chunichi got a minimal return for Otsuka, but he was expendable given the team’s bullpen depth. Kintetsu, unfortunately, had problems that couldn’t be solved by the presence of Otsuka. 

Shingo Takatsu (RP, Swallows -> White Sox): When Shingo announced that he was working out for MLB teams, there was a feeling that he was trying to drive up his price in Japan. Wrong. Shingo had a geniune desire to play major league ball, and put up great numbers in his first year with the White Sox. Yakult got by with out him, going 72-62-2 in 2004 vs 71-66-3 in 2003.

Shingo fell apart in 2005 and was back with the Swallows in 2006, where he pitched two more seasons before getting released. He was in camp this spring with the Cubs, but failed to catch on and played for Woori in Korea in 2008. Shingo seemed to really enjoy his time in Chicago, which endeared him to me as a native Chicagoan.

Impact: Low. What gets overlooked here is that Shingo was pretty inconsistent for his last two years in Japan, and Ryota Igarashi seemed ready to take over as the closer. Where Shingo and Otsuka had a large impact, however, was in establishing the reputation of Japanese relievers as effective in MLB. 

Any comments on this group of players?

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NPB Links in the MLB Playoffs

» 05 October 2008 » In mlb, nichibei » 1 Comment

Fun fact: a Japanese player has appeared in every World Series since 2002, beginning with Tsuyoshi Shinjo with the San Francisco Giants. This year, I’ve noticed a number of NPB connections on the eight MLB playoff teams.

Chicago Cubs

  • Scapegoat Kosuke Fukudome played 10 years for the Chunichi Dragons.
  • Derek Lee’s father, Leon Lee, and uncle, Leron Lee, both played 10+ years in Japan. Derek has said that he would like to finish his career in Japan.
  • Alfonso Soriano came up through the Hiroshima Carp Domican Academy and played briefly in Japan before joining the Yankees.

Los Angeles Dodgers

  • Pitchers Hiroki Kuroda and Takashi Saito are NPB veterans. 

Philedelphia Phillies

  • Manager Charlie Manual played for the Yakult Swallows and Kintetsu Buffaloes in the late 70’s and early 80’s. 
  • Reserve bat Matt Stairs played for the Chunichi Dragons before sticking with an MLB team.
  • Bench outfielder So Taguchi played for the Orix Blue Wave alongside Ichiro.

Milwaukee Brewers

  • Though neither one is on the playoff roster, Gabe Kapler and Joe Dillon both spent part of a season with the Yomiuri Giants.
  • Solomon Torres pitched in Korea before making his MLB comeback.

Tampa Bay Rays

  • Man of the hour Akinori Iwamura came over from the Yakult Swallows two years ago.

Chicago White Sox

  • Former Softbank Hawk DJ Carrasco is on the White Sox’ playoff roster.

Boston Red Sox

  • Daisuke Matsuzaka and Hideki Okajima.

LA Angels of Anaheim

  • Anyone know of any?

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