Tag Archives: Tampa Bay Rays

NPB owners shit the bed again

There is a fine line between understanding the business of baseball and the fact that baseball itself is not a business but a sport that people play or watch for their enjoyment. Although reporters often cross over that line and confuse the two, owners tend to forget completely that THEIR business is of no concern to the people who play or watch the game. Owners confuse the fact that because people care what their teams do, it makes what owners say important.

“Anytime who tells you baseball is ‘basically a business’ is basically an idiot. And you can tell him I said so.”

Bill James

This is no more obvious than in times of crisis when the goodwill of fans can be challenged by extraordinary forces. In these times, owners can show what they are made of and whether they truly understand that the true bottom line of the baseball business is not budgets, payroll, stadium rent and travel expenses, but the willingness of people to engage with their product.

The coronavirus pandemic has reminded us again that Japanese pro baseball owners think that fans will believe whatever comes out of their mouths as if it were the word of God. This year’s example comes from the decision to switch Opening Day, first to April 10, then to April 24.

And while the world is now beginning to grasp the consequences of poor preparation for the pandemic, owners picked those dates, not because of any understanding that the public health crisis would be manageable by then, but rather that those dates allowed them to play a full 143-game schedule.

Only the owners’ arrogance led them to believe anyone – excepting those calculating team budgets on spreadsheets or ass-kissing media types – would buy the rubbish the teams are peddling.

It was this arrogance that led to Japan’s first work stoppage in 2004, and to a longer-than-necessary delay to the season in 2011 following the March 11 earthquake and tsunami.

2004: Go suck eggs

In 2004 when the Kintetsu Railroad wanted to liquidate its team, the Buffaloes, and get out of baseball, owners told the fans and players, “We’re reducing from 12 teams to 11 and if you don’t like it, suck eggs. We care about the fans and the players, but you can still suck eggs because baseball is a business that we understand and you don’t.”

That led to an embarrassing defeat for the owners, who did not bargain in good faith with the players on the assumption the courts would deny them the right to strike. Instead, the courts sided with the players and admonished the owners in public.

Then the owners editorialized about how the players were betraying the fans, who would never forgive a work stoppage and breaking a sacred trust. That was the gist of the Yomiuri Shimbun’s morning edition editorial of Sept. 19 – written before fans flocked to ballparks the day before to get ticket refunds from the canceled games.

But when the strike happened, the customers did what they had done throughout that contentious summer. They stood by those who cared about the product and turned their backs on the owners, whose only rationale was their businesses’ bottom line.

At Yokohama Stadium, the Carp and BayStars practiced – without coaches – but did not play. When the BayStars players came out of the stadium to the ticket plaza they got a warm reception from the fans waiting there, while the player reps, Daisuke Miura and Takanori Suzuki got thunderous applause.

In the end, it worked out great for everybody. The owners’ defeat meant an expansion team for Sendai and interleague play – something the Central League hated. Like free agency in the majors, the defeat of the owners, who ostensibly KNEW about baseball business, has led to a more vibrant baseball scene in Japan with attendance rising every year and vastly more effort to market their product.

2011: Disaster strikes

In 2011, when the Great Eastern Japan Earthquake and Tsunami meant the two Pacific League parks in Sendai and Chiba were unready for Opening Day. It also meant thousands were dead or missing, and many thousands more had lost their homes and jobs, while a nuclear disaster halfway between Tokyo and Sendai left the nation anxious and short of energy.

But because the CL owners KNEW baseball was a business, they insisted on plowing ahead with Opening Day on March 25 as scheduled because, after all, business is business. The PL wanted a delay until April 12, probably less out of consideration of the fans and more for the two damaged stadiums.

After the players union met with the Minister of Education and Sports, the government ridiculed the CL’s plan, and out of consideration of the energy shortage ordered all the games in eastern Japan through April to be played during the day.

In response, the CL announced a four-day delay to Opening Day, which didn’t satisfy the government, and led to the two leagues both opening on April 12. Lotte Marines veteran Tomoya Satozaki said at the time the clubs could easily have begun play around the first of April, but the Central League owners truculence just aggravated the situation.

Eight years later and we’re on the same kind of threshold.

Pandemics? We’ve got a business to run

Faced with a crisis of enormous proportions, the owners’ first response has been “business as usual.” There has been no talk about supporting the vendors and stadium staff who lost wages for preseason games behind closed doors and no talk about a threshold at which inviting large crowds to ballparks would not endanger public health.

Instead, everything has been about how best to play 143 games – as if a single fan in the country actually cared. You’d think the owners would have learned, but apparently not.

I mean why should they learn when the media reports whatever they say. Owners’ policies can impact the product fans get, so it can be relevant for them, but nobody cares wants to hear budget issues or service time used as excuses for teams choosing to deliver a weaker product.

This last point is often lost on reporters who understand those constraints and want to explain the rationale to fans. There is nothing wrong with explaining how such things work, but it’s one thing to explain service time as the reason a prospect is being kept in the minors until he works through all his adjustment issues, and another to explain that it is best for teams to do that.

I don’t mean to pick on Buster Olney

That’s what occurred to me when listening to Buster Olney on his Baseball Tonight podcast.

When he argued the Rays SHOULD keep a promising minor league pitcher in Triple-A so the team won’t waste his service time in the majors while he is still learning, I thought, “That’s not what’s best for the player or the game. that’s only what’s best for the owners.”

That’s the equivalent we had in Japan all summer when the president of the Olympic organizing committee and the governor of Tokyo both said, “The Tokyo Olympics will start on July 24. There is no chance of any change to that.” Despite being in a coronavirus pandemic, those words were treated here as if these people were stating facts by reporters, editors, and producers who should have known better.

It is that kind of reporting that encourages owners and teams to think that they can make people care about their profit and loss statements, and that’s a disservice to everyone.

Scout Diary: Jan. 30, 2020 – American League’s best outfield tools

Who has the best outfield defensive tools in the world?

To find out, I’m looking at the leaders in award fielding honors in center field in four of the world’s top pro leagues. Today is a quick look at the three finalists for the American League’s 2019 Gold Glove in center field.

Jump to 1 year as a scout page

  • Kevin Kiermaier, Rays
  • Mike Trout, Angels
  • Jackie Bradley Jr., Red Sox

First up is Keven Kiermaier. In addition to the good hands, great jumps, speed and strong arm, his throwing mechanics are incredibly fluid. His feet are extremely quick, so even though he is ready to release the ball very quickly, his feet are set, allowing him to make hard accurate throws. Although he is fearless at the wall, he lacks the grace there Lorenzo Cain possesses, which puts Kiermaier in the same group with every other outfielder in the world.

Kevin Kiermaier

Mike Trout has the physical strength to leap at the wall and athleticism to make diving and tumbling catches look effortless. He may be a little faster than Kiermaier, but is not as fluid with his throws as the Rays’ glove wizard.

Mike Trout

Jackie Bradley Jr., however, is my pick for No. 1 in the AL. He can cover ground with the best of them and has the speed to recover when his aggressive jumps send him the wrong way. While his throwing mechanics are not as quite as smooth as Kiermaier’s — nobody’s are, he has the strength and flexibility to make any catch at any angle.

Jackie Bradley Jr.

Next we’ll start our look at Japan with the top three in the voting for the Central League’s 2019 Golden Glove.

Japanese Baseball Hall of Popularity: 2020 version

The Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame on Tuesday announced the winners of its annual ballots, and the hall’s reputation as a popularity contest was confirmed for another year.

For the first time since it was created in 2008, the player’s division voters failed to elect anyone as last year’s runner-up, Shingo Takatsu, fell seven votes short of selection. Popular DeNA BayStars manager Alex Ramirez, the only imported player with 2,000 hits shot up the leaderboard to finish second in the ballot with 233 of the 266 votes needed for selection.

Tuffy Rhodes, easily the best player on the player’s division ballot, took a slight step backward. A year ago, he was named on 29.6 percent of the ballots, this year on 28.8 percent.

Ramirez is a deserving candidate and this is not a slur on his reputation, but as a player, he didn’t have as big an impact as Rhodes. Ramirez was a popular player with the Giants, while Rhodes’ time with the Giants was curtailed by injury and marred by an argument with a coach.

HOF Players Division results 2020

NameVotes2020 Pct2019 pctCareer Win Shares
Shingo Takatsu25973.360.6120
Alex Ramirez23365.840.4248
Masahiro Kawai21861.650.7148
Shinya Miyamoto20658.241.2201
Kenjiro Nomura12735.937.2244
Masumi Kuwata12134.231.5191
Hiroki Kokubo10429.432.1311
Tuffy Rhodes10228.829.6320
Tomonori Maeda10228.829.6262
Takuro Ishii8724.624.8299
Atsunori Inaba7220.3NA302
Kenji Jojima6117.215.1294
Takeshi Yamasaki4111.611.3241
Shinji Sasaoka3911.010.5172
So Taguchi349.610.2170
Norihiro Akahoshi329.08.9146
Norihiro Nakamura287.9NA305
Shinjiro Hiyama164.53.2138
Kazuhisa Ishii144.07.5166
Akinori Iwamura41.1NA222
Makoto Kaneko30.8NA180

Two longtime inoffensive shortstops Masahiro Kawai and Shinya Miyamoto continued to build support, being named on 61.6 percent of the ballots and 58.2, respectively.

At the other end, Akinori Iwamura and Makoto Kaneko both dropped off the ballot on their first try, having failed to be named on 2 percent of the ballots.

HOF Experts Division Results 2020

NameVotes2020 Pct2019 pctCareer Win Shares
Koichi Tabuchi10980.764.7292
Randy Bass8965.963.2133
Masayuki Kakefu6245.930.8303
Keishi Osawa4936.330.1
Isao Shibata4029.626.3261
Tokuji Nagaike3727.417.3216
Hideji Kato2820.719.5286
Masayuki Dobashi2720.024.1155
Mitsuhiro Adachi2115.614.3204
Shigeru Takada1712.6NA167
Masataka Nashida1712.619.5103
Akinobu Okada1611.910.5208
Kiyoshi Nakahata1511.110.5148
Yoshinori Sato1410.4NA175
Hiromu Matsuoka128.97.5233
Mitsuo Tatsukawa118.1NA110

In the expert’s division, slugging catcher Koichi Tabuchi got his overdue reward, while another popular former Hanshin Tiger, two-time triple crown winner Randy Bass, moved to the top of the division’s pecking order with 65.9 percent of the vote.

The good news from Japan’s equivalent of the veteran’s committee was that Masayuki Kakefu moved up from an embarrassing 30.8 percent of the vote last year to 45.9 percent and will be poised to go in after Bass is elected a year from now.

Akiyama going to Reds

The Nikkan Sports has reported early Tuesday morning in Japan that outfielder Shogo Akiyama has reached an agreement on a three-year contract worth in excess of $15 million, citing a source.

The 31-year-old center fielder and leadoff man is easily the most balanced all-around hitter in Japan see my profile of him HERE. He is expected to take a physical with the Reds in the coming days. In addition to the Reds, the San Diego Padres, Tampa Bay Rays, Toronto Blue Jays, Arizona Diamondbacks and Chicago Cubs were all reportedly interested in NPB’s single-season hit record holder.

Akiyama home run collection.

The Reds are the only major league club that has never had a Japanese player on its active roster.

A collection of Akiyama’s defensive highlights.

Free agent center fielder Akiyama could have deal this year: Report

Japan’s Nikkan Sports reported Friday the Cincinnati Reds have put a multiyear offer on the table for free agent outfielder Shogo Akiyama, and are the top candidate to sign the 31-year-old, citing multiple major league sources.

The Reds, Arizona Diamondbacks, Tampa Bay Rays and Chicago Cubs have all been tied to the center fielder and leadoff hitter for the two-time defending champions of Japan’s Pacific League. Those teams met with Akiyama at December’s baseball winter meetings in San Diego.

My profile of Akiyama is HERE.

The report says the Rays and Cubs showed the most interest early on. Akiyama broke Japan’s single-season hit records set in 2010 by Matt Murton, who is currently working in the Cubs’ front office.

The Nikkan Sports story, however, said Cincinnati has since upped the ante and a deal with the club could be concluded before the end of the year. If Akiyama moves to the Reds, he will be the storied club’s first Japanese import.

Unlike compatriots Yoshitomo Tsutsugo, Shun Yamaguchi and Ryosuke Kikuchi, Akiyama is a free agent and is not bound by a signing deadline. He is represented by agent Casey Close. On Friday, Kikuchi announced he would return to the Hiroshima Carp for 2020.

Other reports, including this one from the Hochi Shimbun, indicate the San Diego Padres have recently entered the bidding for Akiyama.

Tsutsugo, who was also a fixture on Japan’s national team, has concluded a two-year deal with the Rays, while pitcher Yamaguchi has reportedly agreed to a two-year contract with the Toronto Blue Jays. Kikuchi, a record-setting glove wizard, has roughly a week to sign before his rights revert to the Hiroshima Carp of Japan’s Central League. Yamaguchi, too, has a Jan. 2 deadline to complete his deal.

Akiyama highlights published this year by Pacific League TV.

Although a good comparison to former big league outfielder Norichika Aoki, Akiyama will strike out a little more — everyone does — but drive the ball better to the opposite field.

Reds making strong bid in pursuit of Lions center fielder Akiyama: Report

The Nikkan Sports reported Thursday that the Cincinnati Reds are shaping up as the top candidates to sign free agent Seibu Lions center fielder Shogo Akiyama.

The Reds are the only major league team never to have a Japanese player on its active roster. The 31-year-old Akiyama has more power than former major leaguer Norichika Aoki, but the two are otherwise comparable.

Akiyama, who holds NPB’s single-season hit record, is represented by agent Casey Close.

Akiyama’s side met with four teams at the 2019 winter meetings in San Diego, including the Chicago Cubs, Arizona Diamondbacks and Tampa Bay Rays.

The report says the Rays and Cubs showed the most interest early on. Akiyama broke Japan’s single-season hit records set in 2010 by Matt Murton, who is currently working in the Cubs’ front office.

The Nikkan Sports story, however, said Cincinnati has since upped the ante and a deal with the club could be concluded before the end of the year. If Akiyama moves to the Reds, he will be the storied club’s first Japanese import.

Unlike compatriots Yoshitomo Tsutsugo, Shun Yamaguchi and Ryosuke Kikuchi, Akiyama is a free agent and is not bound by a signing deadline. He is represented by agent Casey Close. On Friday, Kikuchi announced he would return to the Hiroshima Carp for 2020.

Other reports, including this one from the Hochi Shimbun, indicate the San Diego Padres have recently entered the bidding for Akiyama.

Tsutsugo, who was also a fixture on Japan’s national team, has concluded a two-year deal with the Rays, while pitcher Yamaguchi has reportedly agreed to a two-year contract with the Toronto Blue Jays. Yamaguchi, has a Jan. 2 deadline to complete his deal.

Akiyama highlights published this year by Pacific League TV.

Although a good comparison to former big league outfielder Norichika Aoki, Akiyama will strike out a little more — everyone does — but drive the ball better to the opposite field.

My profile of Akiyama is HERE.