NPB news: Nov. 9, 2022

Samurai Japan played its first game against Australia on Wednesday, when Masahiro Tanaka decided not to exercise his right to file for free agency in order to remain at least one more season with the Rakuten Eagles, which tells you a little about the quirks of Japanese free agency.

In Sapporo with the national team, Fighters on-base machine Kensuke Kondo announced he would file for free agency, while Hanshin pitcher Yuki Nishi declined to do so.

When the game started, Shota Imanaga, who threw a no-hitter in the same ballpark this year, was the star, but Munetaka Murakami would not be denied his share of the spotlight.

Autumn internationals Game 1

Japan 8, Australia 1: At Sapporo Dome, Imanaga’s fastball and the slicker WBC ball were a match made in heaven. The BayStars’ ace’s heater was electric, rising and running, as he struck out 10 over four innings, allowing an unearned first-inning run on three singles and an error.

Aaron Whitefield singled with one out on a ball well-played by Hiroshima’s Ryoma Nishikawa in left, and scored on a throwing error by Hanshin’s Teruaki Sato after Robbie Glendinning singled to right.

Japan wasted a one-out runner in the first, when Nishikawa singled but was picked off first. Glendinning nicely blocking Nishikawa’s path to the base with one foot while awaiting the throw.

Japan took the lead after Imanaga struck out the side in the top of the second. Singles by Murakami and DeNA’s Shugo Maki and a wild pitch by Australia starter Warwick Saupold, set up Yomiuri’s Kazuma Okamoto for a two-run RBI single.

Yakult’s Tetsuto Yamada, DHing with Maki starting at second, singled with two outs in the fifth off new pitcher Kyle Glogoski, who then left a pitch in the heart of the zone that Murakami tattooed for his fourth home run in three games for Japan.

After looking at a first-pitch changeup, Murakami got another, and launched it.

“I wasn’t looking for a specific pitch. I was just looking to hit the pitch I got,” he said.

Glogoski got out of the fifth before the game blew up in the sixth on four straight hits. Teruaki Sato doubled in a run with two on. With one out, Australia’s fourth pitcher, Jon Kennedy, surrendered a two-run single as Koji Chikamoto celebrated his 28th birthday in style. Yamada capped the rally with an RBI single.

Shosei Togo struck out seven over four innings before Daisuke Moriura closed it out in the ninth.

Japanese free agency is WEIRD

Some people might wonder how Masahiro Tanaka, who pitched seven seasons in Japan’s majors, spent seven more in America’s majors, re-signed with the Rakuten Eagles as a free agent, but still needed two years of service time before he could decide to become a free agent under his own power.

Players who are released before they lack the service time to file for free agency, become free agents, and can agree to any kind of contract they like with another team, but until they have the service time, they cannot leave on their own power.

So, after two more seasons in Japan, and ignoring his seven in New York, Tanaka is finally able to control his own destiny. Because he was in so much demand when he returned after the 2020 season, he was able to sign a supplementary contract that allowed him to opt out after 2021, making it look for all the world like he was a free agent when he wasn’t.

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