Four seasons after sitting at the peak of Japanese pitching, Chihiro Kaneko opted out of the Orix Buffaloes roster when his pay cut was large enough to afford him that option.
After winning the 2014 Sawamura Award as Japan’s most impressive starting pitcher, the Pacific League’s MVP, and the league’s Best Nine Award for pitchers*
After that season, he had minor surgery to clean up his elbow, and has gone 30-30 over the past four seasons. Last year, Kaneko pitched in 17 games. When the big four-year-deal he signed after 2014 elapsed, Orix offered him a big pay cut. He walked and joined the Nippon Ham Fighters.
On Saturday, according to Nikkan Sports, Kaneko showed up at the Fighters’ minor league facility in Kamagaya, Chiba Prefecture, outside Tokyo. He was pulling a suitcase full of training equipment he’d learned how to use in a stint last autumn at Driveline Baseball in Seattle.
“My arm is stronger, but the training was also related to how I use my body,” Kaneko said. “I’m not focused on being a starter, middle relief or whatever is ok.”
*--It should seem obvious that an MVP would be rated by the same voters as the best player at his position, but this isn’t always the case, since the MVP is almost always handed to a player on the pennant winner–although in 2014 this wasn’t the case.