The 33-year-old Castillo has spent the bulk of his U.S. pro career at Triple-A Pawtucket with 99 games for Boston, the last coming in 2016. From 2015 to 2019, the right-handed-hitting Castillo slashed .293/.335/.425 for Pawtucket in 467 games.
Castillo, who played most of his 2018 season in center, might be a step up defensively from 32-year-old Stefen Romero, whom the Eagles did not re-sign after he slashed .272/.354/.539 for them in 2020, and could surpass Romero offensively — if he plays 130-plus games since Romero’s only downside has been being hurt without the chance to rehab during the season.
Eagles GM Kazuhisa Ishii said, he expects a hitter who can start rallies and make hay with runners in scoring position.
“He has mid-range power and can hurt you deep but does not live by the long ball,” Ishii told the Eagles’ website. “I expect his role will be to set the table and bring home runs. “
“Due to suspensions of new entries into the country, it’s highly likely now that he will not arrive in time for Currently, it is highly likely he will not arrive in time for camp. However, when he does get here, we dilligently support him so he can be ready to play as soon as possible.”
In addition to being the GM, Ishii will manage the Eagles this year as they seek to overtake the Orix Buffaloes in the race for the most-managerial changes title with their third skipper in three years.
Nippon Professional Baseball Commissioner Atsushi Saito said Tuesday Japan’s two top-tier leagues are considering playing more than their current 143-game schedule after 2021 in order to make up for the losses incurred in the coronavirus-hit 2020 season, the Nikkan Sports reported.
“One thing we can consider is related to the number of games. We now have 143, but if we increase the number of games, we can increase revenue.”
–NPB Commissioner Atsushi Saito
Saito said preparations are in the works for combatting the coronavirus this year, when Japan is set to host the Summer Olympics, and even next, and said he’s heard that some players would be on board with an expanded schedule.
Saito didn’t say why NPB didn’t consider MLB’s scorched-earth model of firing scouts, coaches and minor leaguers.
NPB’s coronavirus response mirrored the stance of Japan’s central government. In February 2020, when the virus was considered a threat to holding the the Olympics on schedule, preseason games were held behind closed doors and NPB mimicked the government by first saying the season would start on schedule and then repeatedly announcing new starting dates.
All that changed on March 24, the day Japan bowed to the obvious, that a July-August 2020 Tokyo Olympics were impossible when the IOC said it was a no-go.
No longer needing the illusion that Tokyo would be safe to host the Olympics from July, Japan’s infection count jumped by a factor of eight, and the fiction that pro baseball’s season would begin in April was abandoned.
The government soon announced its first state of emergency, and when it was lifted in May, NPB announced its June 13 Opening Day behind closed doors for a 120-game season with no all-star break or interleague play. Teams were allowed to admit up to 5,000 fans from July 10.
Teams were permitted to admit roughly half their venues’ attendance from the start of September.
Japan is now on the verge of announcing another state of emergency with infection rates hitting record levels. The government is also restricting entry to non-resident foreign nationals following the emergence of new strains of the coronavirus, and there is concern about the ability of players to travel here in time for the start of Spring Training on Feb. 1.
On Monday, the Orix Buffaloes announced that infielder Steven Moya arrived in Japan on Sunday in order to avoid any entry hassle. This year, he will be competing for playing time with both Adam Jones and returning slugger Stefen Romero, who had a productive 2020 season with the Rakuten Eagles.
On Saturday, the SoftBank Hawks held their annual “reject Kodai Senga’s plead to be posted” contract negotiation. The 26-year-old is on track to be a domestic free agent a year from now and eligible to move overseas on his own power after the 2022 season. Since GM Sugihiko Mikasa indicated a multiyear deal was ready for Senga, it seems he turned that down with the hope the club might just change its mind a year from now and post him after four years of head-shaking.
The Hawks have, according to Call to the Pen, signed Cuban pitcher Andy Rodriguez. The Hawks non-tendered pitchers Rick van den Hurk and Matt Moore, but would love to have Moore back for a second season in Fukuoka.
Tigers bulk up
The Hanshin Tigers have reached deals to import two of KBO’s outstanding imports last season, Mel Rojas Jr, and pitcher Raul Alcantara, signed lefty Chen Wei-yin, who finished the 2020 season with the Lotte Marines, and re-signed closer Robert Suarez.
Alcantara won the 2020 Choi Dong Won Award as KBO’s outstanding pitcher, while Rojas is the second straight KBO RBI leader to join the Tigers following their 2019 acquisition of Jerry Sands. Rojas, the 2020 MVP also led the league in home runs and finished third in batting average.
The Marines have come to terms with infielder Adeiny Hechevarria, the Miami Marlins’ everyday shortstop from 2013 to 2016. Hechevarria has been a utility infielder since, although he did hit a career-high nine home runs last year.
Marines manager Tadahito Iguchi said he expects Hechevarria could hit 20 homers a season in Japan. I thought that was a bit of stretch but two of the 140 players who hit 20-plus HRs in their first NPB season came here without ever hitting more than nine in a year, so it’s not quite as silly as it sounds.
The Marines also brought back Frank Herrmann, whom they non-tendered, for a second season in Chiba, while the Lions have done the same with first-year reliever Reed Garrett. The Orix Buffaloes have also agreed to bring back closer Brandon Dickson for his ninth season.
When I saw Stefen Romero cut after an outstanding first season with the Rakuten Eagles, I wondered if an unusually large number of players were non-tendered this year, but that wasn’t appear the case. The 12 teams cut 132 players on Dec. 2, one shy of the 133 cut in 2016 and 2019.
From 2003 to 2010 the median was 94. Since 2011, the new median is 127.5, with the watershed year being 2011.
This should come as no surprise to anyone. That year, both leagues were thrown into chaos between the introduction of a deader uniform ball, the merging of umpires from both leagues for the first time, and low-lighting for several months in the wake of the nuclear disasters following the March 11 killer earthquake and tsunami. Offense plummeted, many players’ numbers dipped precipitously, and a lot of them got the chop.
Since then 120 to 130 has been the norm, and this year, which at first glance appeared to be a response to more available talent from the frozen free-agent market in the States, is not that unusual.
Free agent market
Speaking of free agents, one team’s international director said he did not feel more veteran major leaguers were looking to a Japan contract this year to escape the majors’ current buyers market.
In the domestic market, Yasuhiro Ogawa, the first pitcher in Japan to throw a no-hitter in the same game he first struck out 10 batters, tested the market as a free agent and decided to stay with the Yakult Swallows rather than join the Pacific League’s Nippon Ham Fighters.
Hawks release, Moore, van den Hurk, Uchikawa, Colas on cut day
The Pacific League’s SoftBank Hawks parted company, at least technically with pitchers Matt Moore and Rick van den Hurk, while making longtime captain Seiichi Uchikawa free to complete a deal with the Central League’s Yakult Swallows on Wednesday.
Nippon Professsional Baseball’s teams are required to submit their reserve lists for the 2021 season on Dec. 2, the big day for releases across Japan. The moves don’t necessarily mean that neither Moore nor van den Hurk will be back with the four-time defending Japan Series champions, but it does mean they were unable to or unwilling to exercise an option to keep them.
Cuban two-way player Oscar Colas, who has been on the restricted list since Feb. 19, was released by not being placed on the Hawks’ 2021 reserve list, meaning he will be free to sign with an MLB club as an international amateur when the next international signing period opens in June.
Cuts throw import market wide open
The winter NPB market for import players heated up considerably with Tuesday’s cuts when a number of experienced players with established value were left off their clubs’ reserves list. Here’s a brief rundown:
Kota Futaki (8-3) had one hiccup in his seven-inning stint, Stefen Romero’s ice-breaking three-run fourth-inning home run, but allowed nothing else as the Lotte Marines snapped a four-game losing streak to beat the Rakuten Eagles 6-3 at Chiba’s Zozo Marine Stadium on Saturday.
The win gave the second-place Marines a two-game lead in the fight for the Pacific League’s final playoff spot over the Seibu Lions, who were busted up 11-2 by the SoftBank Hawks. The Eagles, in fourth, are another half-game further back.
Futaki allowed only one base runner before the fourth and retired the last 10 batters he faced after hanging a 2-2 pitch that Romero blasted into the left-field stands for his 24th home run.
Eagles starter Ryota Ishibashi (1-6) allowed four runs over 5-1/3 innings. D.J. Johnson got Rakuten out of the five run inning, retiring all five batters he faced, while J.T. Chargois also stamped his initials on the proceedings in a scoreless ninth.
HIrokazu Sawamura, the loser on Friday, worked a scoreless eighth for the Marines, while Naoya Masuda recorded 30 saves for the first time in seven years.
Hawks tattoo Lions
Shuta Ishikawa (10-3) allowed a run over six innings, and Kenji Akashi doubled twice, tripled, singled scored three runs and drove in four in the SoftBank Hawks’ 11-2 win over the Seibu Lions at MetLife Dome.
Seibu’s Ernesto Mejia enlivened the game in the seventh inning by scoring after hitting his first triple in six years.
Kawano ends win drought
Nippon Ham Fighters rookie Ryosei Kawano (3-4) allowed a run over six innings in a 6-1 win over the Orix Buffaloes and southpaw Andrew Albers (4-8) at Sapporo Dome. Kawano, who hadn’t won since August, gave up three singles. The lefty struck out three without issuing a walk.
Okamoto powers Sugano to victory
Kazuma Okamoto hit his Central League-leading 29th home run, a three-run shot that bumped his league-best RBI total to 89 as ace Tomoyuki Sugano (14-2) allowed a run over five innings despite giving up five hits, walking two and hitting two in the 6-4 win at Tokyo Dome.
Rubby De La Rosa worked the ninth for his 17th save.
Naomasa Yokawa gave the Hanshin Tigers the early lead with a first-inning grand slam and added a solo shot in a 13-5 win over the DeNA BayStars at Yokohama Stadium, although his home runs might not have been as memorable as two of the three hit by the BayStars.
Jose Lopez’s fourth-inning solo shot off Takumi Akiyama (10-3) was his 11th of the season and was his 1,000th hit in Japan. He is the 14th imported player to reach the milestone and only the third player to reach that figure in both NPB and MLB. The other two are Ichiro Suzuki and Hideki Matsui.
Lopez is the 14th import to reach 1,000 hits in Japan and the fourth Venezuelan after Alex Ramirez, Bobby Marcano and Alex Cabrera.
Tyler Austin reached 20 homers in the 61st game of his debut season, while Yamato Maeda took former teammate, retiring Tigers reliever Kyuji Fujikawa out in the ninth for two runs.
Jefry Marte and Jerry Sands also helped power the Hanshin onslaught. Marte went 2-for-2 with two runs and three walks, while Sands went 3-for-5 with two doubles, two runs and two RBIs.
Japan’s 1,000-hit foreign imports through Oct. 31, 2020 and the next guy
Note:This table has been updated. It originally omitted Wally Yonamine, Chico Barbon and Matt Murton.
Aizawa, Carp get ‘lucky’
Tsubasa Aizawa’s three-run eighth-inning double brought the Hiroshima Carp from behind against a lefty whose last name means luck in Japanese, Hiroto Fuku (5-5) in a 9-3 win over the Chunichi Dragons at Nagoya Dome.
Active roster moves 10/31/2020
Deactivated players can be re-activated from 11/10
Kotaro Otake (2-0) came up from the farm, surrendered one run over five innings and Ukyo Shuto sparked the offense as the SoftBank Hawks clinched a postseason spot for the seventh straight year with a 7-2 win over the Seibu Lions at Fukuoka’s PayPay Dome.
Otake allowed three singles, all in the Lions’ second, and five relievers finished up while the Hawks offense scored early and often.
Shuto opened the bottom of the first with a single, stole his Japan-best 45th base, and scored on a Yuki Yanagita single to center. Lions center fielder Yuji Kaneko charged his hardest to keep Shuto from scoring, but failed to collect the ball, and Yanagita–even with his diminished 32-year-old wheels–circled the bases easily and scored standing up.
The Hawks put the game away in a four-run second, with Shuto singling home the first run off Lions starter Wataru Matsumoto (5-6). Yanagita walked with the bases loaded and Yurisbel Gracial doubled in two runs.
The Hawks have a magic number to clinch the franchise’s 21st pennant and will play the second-place Lotte Marines at home starting on Tuesday.
Iwashita returns to plague Buffaloes
Daiki Iwashita, Patient Zero in the Lotte Marines recent novel coronavirus outbreak, returned to duty with five scoreless innings in a 10-1 win over the Orix Buffaloes at Osaka’s Kyocera Dome.
Iwashita (6-7) allowed four hits and a walk while striking out four. On the other side of the equation Taiwan’s Chang Yi (2-3) gave up an unlucky run in the first before the roof caved in on him in the third.
“In the third and fifth innings, I made mistakes with my out pitches,” he said after allowing seven runs on 11 hits but now walks over five innings. “I threw fat pitches and that was it.”
Romero steals show in Sendai
Stefen Romero did everything except hit for the cycle, playing great defense in left field while going 4-for-4 with a double and a triple in the Rakuten Eagles’ 13-4 win over the Nippon Ham Fighters at Sendai’s Rakuten Seimei Park Miyagi.
Romero robbed Sho Nakata of an RBI extra-base hit to end the first with a catch near the top of the fence in left. He singled and scored the game’s first run in the third off Fighters ace Kohei Arihara (7-9) and tripled in two and scored in Rakuten’s three-run fourth.
A single off a big swing in his final at-bat ended Romero’s day as he failed to put his name in the record books next to baseball’s stupidest accomplishment.
Ryota Takinaka (2-1) walked five but allowed no runs over seven innings to earn the win. Rakuten’s D.J. Johnson allowed no hits or walks but gave up an unearned run in the eighth.
Akiyama stops Giants
Right-hander Takumi Akiyama (9-3) allowed six hits over the distance and Yusuke Oyama powered the Hanshin Tigers’ offense in a 4-2 win over the Central Legue-leading Hanshin Tigers at Tokyo Dome.
Akiyama struck out five and allowed both runs on Yoshihiro Maru’s 24th home run. He struck out five without issuing a walk.
The Tigers opened the scoring in the first against Seishu Hatake (3-4) on three straight one-out singles by Kento Itohara, Jefry Marte and Oyama.
Oyama doubled in the fifth and scored on Naomasa Yokawa’s fifth home run.
The Giants’ magic number to clinch the pennant remained at four after the second-place Chunichi Dragons won their late game at nearby Jingu Stadium.
In the first game since DeNA BayStars manager Alex Ramirez announced he would leave at the end of the season, a parade of six relievers held the Hiroshima Carp to six hits in a 3-0 win at Yokohama Stadium.
With the BayStars leading 1-0 after Toshiro Miyazaki’s first-inning RBI single off Yuta Nakamura (3-3), Neftali Soto drove in an eighth-inning insurance run with his 22nd home run. Tyler Austin followed with a single and scored on a Yamato Maeda single.
Kinoshita doubles down for die-hard Dragons
Takuya Kinoshita doubled in three second-inning runs as the Chunichi Dragons refused to roll over and give up the pennant race in a 5-1 win over the Yakult Swallows at Tokyo’s Jingu Stadium.
Dayan Viciedo homered, singled twice and scored twice for the Dragons, who got 6-1/3 scoreless innings from Yuya Yanagi (5-6). The right-hander allowed four hits, three walks and hit a batter while striking out seven.
Swallows starter Albert Suarez (4-3) also had trouble with location as he allowed three runs over five innings after walking four, hitting one and giving up three hits.
Igarashi goes out on top
Ryota Igarashi threw one pitch in his 823rd and final NPB game, entering the game between the Yakult Swallows and Chunichi Dragons in the eighth inning and left after throwing one pitch and getting an out thanks to a good play at third by Alcides Escobar.
He entered the game to hugs from his teammates, left to a standing ovation, and tossed the ball he threw into the fans at Jingu Stadium.
Buffaloes deactivate Jones
The Orix Buffaloes deactivated outfielder Adam Jones on Sunday due to the season’s most overused catch-all reason, “a lack of lower-body fitness.”
In 87 games, Jones has posted a .331 on-base percentage with a .417 slugging average. He has hit 12 home runs, scored 29 runs and driven in 43.
Meanwhile, the Yakult Swallows activated reliever Ryota Igarashi for the express purpose of allowing him to pitch in his retirement game and for that reason were allowed to exceed the 31-man active roster limit.