It’s December 2, meaning this year’s annual player contracts have all expired and it’s officially time to say Japan’s warm kotatsu league has begun, with a some new players, some players leaving, a new Japan manager, and some Tsuyoshi Shinjo insight.
A kotatsu, as many of you might know, is a low table that includes a heating element and a blanket that family members sit at to warm their feet and legs on winter mornings and evenings.
They were once pretty ubiquitous in Japanese homes, but I don’t know if that’s still true. We don’t have one in our place, but my wife’s sister and her husband have one in their condo, and it’s kind of a treat when we go up there.
If it’s a lazy winter day and you’re not working, you might have the TV droning on in the background while the warmth from the kotatsu makes you drowsy enough to drop off to sleep.
In a way, that’s the difference between the hot stove league and the kotatsu league, Japan’s version is more likely to put you to sleep.
San Diego calling
Last week, the Seibu Lions acquired former San Diego Padres outfielder Brian O’Grady, and on Wednesday, the Padres announced they have signed a one-year-deal with Hanshin Tigers closer Robert Suarez, who led the Central League in saves last year.
The Padres have, according to ESPN’s Jeff Passan, also agreed on terms of a four-year deal with right-hander Nick Martinez, who failed to attract much attention a year ago after three seasons with the Nippon Ham Fighters. With nothing promising on his radar, Martinez jumped when the SoftBank Hawks called, and he turned in a lights-out season and starred for the U.S. Olympic team.
In other recent moves:
- On Dec. 1, the Hanshin Tigers reached an agreement with 32-year-old right-hander Aaron Wilkerson, who struck out 125 over 122 innings for Triple-A Oklahoma City in 2021, while walking just 24.
- On Nov. 12, the Seibu Lions signed 30-year-old former Tampa Bay Rays lefty (and former San Diego Triple-A player) Dietrich Ens to a one-year contract reported at 100 million yen. Enns was dynamite last season for Triple-A Durham, stringing out 90 batters in 71-2/3 innings as a starter.
- On Nov. 9, the Hiroshima Carp agreed to terms with 32-year-old lefty Nik Turley, who relieved in 43 games in 2021 for the Triple-A Charlotte in the White Sox organization. He struck out 60 while walking 21 over 43 innings. His deal calls for a $100,000 signing bonus with a reported base salary of $650,000.
Nunez to sign with Fighters
On Nov. 5, the Nippon Ham Fighters reached an agreement with 27-year-old infielder Renato Nunez on a one-year contract with a reported base salary of 180 million yen. He profiles like former Fighter Brandon Laird, a low-average, low-OBP power hitter.
Asked about the big-swinging slugger, new Fighters manager Tsuyoshi Shinjo–big-swinger without a good grasp of the strike zone, who was never a productive offensive player–said, “He’s going to hit. The chance that he is a good fit for Japanese ball is high. He has excellent bat to ball skills.”
File and forget
Japan’s free agent market opened for business on Monday, and two players declared they would exercise their right to file, and then announced that they would re-sign with their current clubs.
I’ve lived in Japan for more than half my life, and this is something I still don’t get. I understand a player filing, testing the market and then deciding to stay where he is. But players can only file for free agency every three years. These players who file in order to re-sign are giving away their rights to file for another three years.
Neither player was any big shakes, Seibu Lions backup catcher Masatoshi Okada announced his decision on Monday, and on Wednesday it was the turn of 34-year-old DeNA BayStars infielder Yamato Maeda,
Former Fighters skipper to manage Japan
Hideki Kuriyama, who won more games in 10 years as manager of the Nippon Ham Fighters than any skipper in franchise history, has a new gig, managing Japan’s national team, ostensibly to prepare and lead Samurai Japan at the 2023 World Baseball Classic.
The choice of the 60-year-old Kuriyama is a switch from the past two choices. Hiroki Kokubo was 42 when he got the job, Atsunori Inaba 44, and neither had ever managed before although Inaba had coached for Kuriyama with the Fighters.
Kuriyama is certainly qualified based on his own accomplishments, but it’s hard to overlook the likelihood that he was chosen because of his relationship with Shohei Ohtani.
It’s very possible that the guys were sitting around the commissioner’s office one afternoon talking about the WBC: “How can we get Ohtani to play? Hey, what’s the name of that guy who managed him with the Fighters? Kurihara? Kuri… Can anyone check and see if he’s working now or not?”
These guys were not tendered offers
- Yakult Swallows (7) including:
- RHP Albert Suarez
- Hanshin Tigers (12) including:
- RHP Jon Edwards
- RHP Robert Suarez (signed with San Diego)
- OF Jerry Sands
- Yomiuri Giants (20) including:
- IF Estamy Urena
- OF Yang Dai-kang
- OF Scott Heineman
- Hiroshima Carp (12) including:
- LHP Kyle Bird
- RHP Tayler Scott
- RHP Dovydas Neverauskas
- IF Kevin Cron
- IF Alejandro Mejia
- Chunichi Dragons (10) including:
- LHP Randy Rosario
- DeNA BayStars (12) including:
- RHP Michael Peoples
- Kevin Shackelford
- Orix Buffaloes (14) including:
- RHP Tyler Higgins
- RHP Glenn Sparkman
- OF Steven Moya
- OF Adam Jones
- Lotte Marines (13) including:
- RHP Frank Herrmann
- RHP Jose Flores
- SS Adeiny Hechavarria
- Rakuten Eagles (11) including:
- 1B Brandon Dixon
- OF Rusney Castillo
- SoftBank Hawks (7) including:
- RHP Nick Martinez (signing with Padres)
- RHP Dennis Sarfate (retiring)
- IF Keizo Kawashima
- Nippon Ham Fighters (14) including:
- RHP Toru Murata
- RHP Drew VerHagen
- RHP Ryo Akiyoshi
- LHP Robbie Erlin
- IF Ronny Rodriguez
- OF Taishi Ota
- OF Haruki Nishikawa (led PL in SB in 2021)
- Seibu Lions (13) including
- RHP Reed Garrett
- RHP Zach Neel
- LHP Matt Dermody
- IF-OF Cory Spangenberg