Tag Archives: Texas Rangers

The kotatsu league: Hawks staying busy

The SoftBank Hawks are poised to acquire 30-year-old lefty Matt Moore, the Nikkan Sports reported Friday citing a source. Moore posted 10-plus wins in three different seasons. He had surgery on his pitching elbow in 2018 but came back to pitch two games this past season with the Detroit Tiger when he showed no noticeable drop in velocity. Moore spent most of his career with the Tampa Bay Rays before playing for the San Francisco Giants, Texas Rangers and Tigers.

The Hawks this week also welcomed former catcher Kenji Jojima, who will take up a role in the front office. Jojima, who I have ranked as the fifth most valuable catcher in NPB history and the 50th best player overall, left the Hawks after the 2005 season for the majors. He returned to Japan with the Central League’s Hanshin Tigers and played three more years until 2012.

Tigers announce Sands signing

The Hanshin Tigers on Friday introduced Jerry Sands, the 32-year-old outfielder who led the KBO in RBIs this year. His one-year deal is reportedly worth $1.1 million. In comments released by the Tigers (in Japanese only) Sands said his former minor league teammate, Pierce Johnson, who starred in relief this year for the Tigers, spoke highly of the organization.

Dickson, Albers and Moya back with Orix for 2020

The Pacific League’s Orix Buffaloes announced they had concluded 2020 contracts with three foreign holdovers from 2019, pitchers Brandon Dickson and Andrew Albers, and outfielder-first baseman Steven Moya. Dickson , who joined Orix in 2013, moved last season from the starting rotation to the bullpen, where he proved effective as the closer for the Buffaloes, and during the Premier 12 for the United States. Moya arrived last season from the CL’s Chunichi Dragons.

Their English NPB player pages are HERE:

The kotatsu league: Yamaguchi poised to sign with Blue Jays

The Toronto Blue Jays hit pay dirt on with what appears to be a cost-effective two-year contract for right-hander Shun Yamaguchi. The deal, as reported by Sankei Sports Wednesday morning in Japan, will be for $6 million.

Yamaguchi, who joined the Yomiuri Giants of Japan’s Central League three years ago as a free agent from the DeNA BayStars, is the first player ever posted by the Giants, Japan’s oldest pro team.

My profile of Yamaguchi is HERE. He is coming off a career year in 2019 when he tied for the Central League in wins with 15 as the Giants won their first pennant since 2013.

Although pundits are saying Yamaguchi could be effective as a reliever, should know that the reason he became a starter was that he developed a case of the yips as a reliever and became ineffective. The switch back to starter allowed him to develop his other pitches — a development that was accelerated during his time with the Giants.

Part of that metamorphosis was also likely due to his needing a new challenge, something pitching in the majors will provide in any context.

According to the SanSPo story, Yamaguchi will fly directly to Canada from Hawaii, where he had been with the rest of the Giants on their customary “victory vacation.”

Yamaguchi opens posting door for Sugano

The Giants had been staunchly opposed to using the posting system since the days of powerful former owner Tsuneo Watanabe but included a provision to post Yamaguchi as part of the three-year contract that saw him move from Yokohama to Tokyo. Since then, mixed signals have been coming from Yomiuri.

The same week the team’s owner passed off Yamaguchi’s posting as a one-time thing, Team president Tsukasa Imamura admitted the team had accepted the pitcher’s desire to be posted when he joined them as a free agent, saying, “no time was fixed for posting but that it was agreed to” according to a Daily Sports story.

Imamura added that it would now be incumbent on the team to evaluate other players’ wishes to be posted and named two-time Sawamura Award-winner Tomoyuki Sugano as a player who might fit that bill, mentioning that the right-hander had already sacrificed a year of his pro career in order to join the Giants as an amateur.

My profile of Sugano is HERE.

Tigers done with Dolis, close to Edwards deal

Rafael Dolis, the closer for the CL’s Hanshin Tigers until Kyuji Fujikawa‘s ninth-inning resurrection this past summer, is apparently moving on in search of a major league contract according to this story in the Daily Sports, which said the Tigers gave up on contract talks on Tuesday.

After saving 88 games over the previous 2-1/2 seasons, Dolis lost two games in June and was removed from the ninth-inning firing line and replaced by the remarkable Kyuji Fujikawa in July.

Except for a few hiccups, the 31-year-old Dolis was essentially as effective in 2019 as he had been in his three previous seasons.

Dolis’ English language NPB player page is HERE.

Here’s an interview with Fujikawa from this summer.

In related news, the Daily Sports also reported with 31-year-old right-hander Jon Edwards. In 49 major league games as a reliever with the Rangers, Padres and Indians, Edwards is 2-0 with a 3.67 ERA over 41-2/3 innings.

The video says “1st start” but it was Edwards’ first game in relief.

He has a 3.08 ERA over 131-1/3 career Triple-A innings with 30 saves and an 11-4 record. His 11.4 strikeouts per nine innings this year with Columbus was the worst figure of his Triple-A career. Using the lively major league ball introduced this season in Triple-A, Edwards allowed seven of his 10 career home runs over 49 innings.

Tsutsugo introduced by Rays

Here’s an English language wrap of Yoshitomo Tsutsugo‘s introductory presser with the Tampa Bay Rays.

My Tsutsugo profile is HERE.

The kotatsu league: Kansai buzz

Tuesday’s news in Japan centered on the Hanshin Tigers and the Orix Buffaloes.

Jefry Marte‘s greatest Hanshin hits from 2019

Marte back for 2020

The Hanshin Tigers provided the real news on Tuesday, by announcing that first baseman Jefry Marte would be back for 2020 after concluding a $1.3 million contract after a debut season in which he posted a .381 on-base percentage and a .444 slugging average.

Marte’s NPB page is HERE.

He was quoted by the team in a press release as vowing to build on his first season by going all out from camp to win the pennant.

Jones in talks with Buffaloes

The Orix Buffaloes have been in talks with veteran big-league outfielder Adam Jones on a multiyear contract according to Ken Rosenthal of FoxSports.com. Although the Buffaloes and their predecessors, the Orix BlueWave and Hankyu Braves have a history of big performances by foreign players, none have ever come with the kind of experience Jones had prior to arriving in Japan.

The Nikkan Sports indicated one obvious advantage to playing in Japan, being able to compete in the 2020 Olympic baseball tournament, which the majors will “support fully” by preventing its top players from participating.

Rodriguez to Rangers

The Texas Rangers added to their reputation as NPB’s biggest trading partner by signing lefty middle reliever Joely Rodriguez to a two-year deal worth 5.5 million, the Dallas Morning News confirmed after an initial report by MLB Network.

Rodriguez’s English language NPB player page is HERE.

The 28-year-old led the CL in holds and hold points (holds plus relief wins) in 2019. He threw his changeup a lot more in Japan and got a higher percentage of swings and misses, which could be a good sign when he returns to MLB.

Chicago’s Fighters

The Chicago Cubs’ 2020 coaching staff for new manager David Ross via Yahoo Sports, includes former Nippon Ham Fighters Andy Green and Terrmel Sledge. The Cubs also have former Fighter Yu Darvish, and Jim Adduci — whose dad played for the Taiyo Whales in 1987.

Here’s Sledge talking about being an MLB coach and playing in Japan.

Maverick Uehara runs his course

Former Yomiuri Giants ace and Boston Red Sox closer Koji Uehara announced his retirement Monday in Tokyo, bringing an end to an entertaining and dynamic career in which he became the first Japanese player to register 100 wins, saves and holds.

At a press conference in which the 44-year-old worked in vain to hold back tears, saying he came into the season knowing it would be his last. Three months after the start of camp and unable to get batters out on the farm despite feeling fit, Uehara said he wanted to call it quits sooner rather than later – when a retirement press conference might be a distraction during the pennant race.

Read a transcript of Uehara’s retirement press conference in Tokyo HERE.

Uehara burst on the scene in 1999, going 20-4 for the Giants after he turned down the Angels, who were said to have offered a deal worth $9 million – about seven times what an NPB team could officially offer an amateur.

In 2005, he told Japan’s Daily Yomiuri (now the Japan News) the Giants guaranteed he would start on the first team, while the Angels would only go as far as handing him a Double-A opening. Between that, not having to be deal with a language barrier and whatever the Giants were offering under the table, Uehara signed his future away to Yomiuri.

Within a few years, however, Uehara was pushing the Giants for an early exit so he could play in the majors.

“Nine years needed for free agency in Japan is truly a long time, but as an amateur, you don’t think about that,” he told the Daily Yomiuri.

When the Giants’ windbag owner Tsuneo Watanabe told the media that he would fire any player who asked to be posted, Uehara demanded to be posted. When Watanabe threatened to release any player with the temerity to send an agent to contract negotiations, Uehara sent his agent, only for the Giants to deny that Uehara’s representative was in fact an agent.

When Japanese players aquire the service time needed to file for free agency, NPB alerts the media, and reporters descend on them, only to hear, “We’re in the middle of the season. My only focus is on winning a championship.”

Not Uehara.

“I’m going to the majors,” he said during the middle of the 2008 season, a mediocre year that went downhill after he broke the taboo of talking about free agency during the season.

In 1999, he won the Central League’s rookie of the year award and winning the Sawamura Award as Nippon Professional Baseball’s most impressive starting pitcher.

At the end of the season, with the Giants out of the pennant race, Uehara made a meme of himself by protesting a Japanese baseball custom of not competing in order to assist a teammate’s pursuit of an individual title.

With Hideki Matsui pursuing the CL home run title, Uehara was ordered to walk Yakult Swallows slugger Roberton Petagine. Uehara, showed his bent for idealism and tears by crying on the mound, and his distaste for the order by kicking the dirt on the mound after Petagine trotted to first base.

The following year Uehara began suffering the first of a long series of leg injuries but bounced back to be one of the league’s top pitchers from 2002 to 2004. For two years after that Uehara battled more injuries and in 2007 was sent to the bullpen, where he was dynamite as the Giants despite constantly lobbying for a return to the rotation that his fitness wouldn’t justify.

He got a brief shot at starting in 2008 but failed badly, and chose the Baltimore Orioles the following season because they promised him a chance to start in 2009. Traded to the Texas Rangers in 2011, the following season, he was in a pitching staff with two former NPB strikeout leaders, Colby Lewis and Yu Darvish, as well as his high school teammate, Yoshinori Tateyama.

In high school, Tateyama had been the ace, while Uehara who had run track in junior high, was an outfielder, whose principle mound role came as a senior as a batting practice pitcher. He didn’t begin pitching in earnest until he entered university, where he went to earn a teaching credential.

Uehara’s stay with the Rangers, however, was brief. He was cut loose after a poor run of results at the end of the 2012 season and available to the Red Sox at a bargain price and finished seventh in the American League’s Cy Young Award voting.

After one last season in the majors with the Chicago Cubs in 2017, Uehara, at 42 with 95 MLB saves under his belt said he would retire rather than return to NPB, but in March he admitted that he was not ready to give up the life of a pro ballplayer and signed with Yomiuri.

He pitched in 36 games last year for the Giants, going 0-5 with 14 holds and no saves. Last October, he had surgery to clean out his left knee. The Giants released him and re-signed him for 2019 after he was declared fit.

Although he said he was fit all spring, he was ineffective. Through April, he toiled with the Giants’ minor leaguers. He struck out 10 batters in nine innings in the Eastern League but allowed four runs. At his retirement press conference on Monday, he said he’d come into the 2019 season knowing it would be his last. That knowledge, he said, hindered his search for the extra gear he might have had that would turn his year around.

“If you have a next year, then you work even harder,” he said. “This year I was going to compete for a full season, but I had already told myself I didn’t have any more next years. As one would expect, I found it very hard to keep my body and mind in sync.”

International team work

On May 4, the Pacific League’s Seibu Lions and the National League’s New York Mets became the latest to dip into an international partnership that people often see as being one-sided, with benefits accruing mostly to the Japanese team.

Seeing the baseball world from both sides

There are precious few people with first-hand knowledge of how front offices work in both Japan and the major leagues, and one of those, Randy Smith spoke recently about the potential that awaits MLB clubs who want to expand their horizons in Japan and think outside the box.

Currently wearing two hats, as senior advisor to Nippon Ham Fighters general manager Hiroshi Yoshimura and as an international scout for the Texas Rangers, Smith spoke by phone from Sapporo about the two clubs’ working relationship and what can be learned through cooperation.

“It depends on the two groups,” Smith, a former general manager with both the Detroit Tigers and San Diego Padres, said recently by phone from Sapporo. “What do the parties want to get out of it?”

Things, he said, have come a long way since the tie-ups largely meant MLB scouts would have someone to help them with their itineraries in Japan.

The Fighters and Rangers

“The relationship the Fighters have with the Rangers is unique because of the two organizations’ thought processes.”

The product is a relationship (between Yoshimura and Rangers GM Jon Daniels) in which both sides are open to learning lessons. While Japanese teams are considered to be far behind their MLB counterparts in analytics, Smith said the Rangers are open to the possibility they might learn something in Japan from Nippon Ham.

“It’s about asking questions. And that goes back to the people who are involved,” Smith said, adding that some MLB innovations originated in Japan.

“Some of the stuff they do, MLB may not say where it came from. But the massage, and some of the medical stuff that’s done now, came from here.”

“The Fighters are one of the more analytical clubs here. You can see that from the way they treat their foreign players.”

Smith cited the team’s handling of third baseman Brandon Laird as an example of the Fighters’ advanced understanding. In 2015, Laird struggled to hit for average in his debut season. But the club stuck with him, gave him the opportunity to make adjustments when many other Japanese teams would have banished him to the farm club for good.

Changing awareness of NPB’s quality

It’s become obvious over the past 10 years that open-minded adaptable can expand and develop their skills in Japan and often increase their value in the MLB labor market.

“In the past, if you came to Japan as a player, your career was considered over,” Smith said. “But now because we have good information and access to modern technology we know more. Guys come, learn the split, or pick up something.”

He said that his extended time in Japan has opened his eyes to things he hadn’t seen before, when he was focused on high-impact target players and failed to take stock of the forest surrounding those prize trees.

“I used to come over, and I’m seeing the targets,” Smith said. “The last three years, I’m watching everybody in the PL, seeing the depth. It’s been educational for me. There’s a lot of pitching depth, more than people realize.”

Smith said that while Japanese players have been able to take part in instructional leagues in the States, the exchange agreements that once saw NPB clubs sending youngsters to Single-A ball to experience another side to the game are unlikely to make a comeback.

He also said that there is virtually no chance an MLB team could take advantage of NPB’s universe to season young players, although he agreed such a program would have its benefits.

“A lot can be gained from playing here,” he said. “Playing in Japan is a great way to develop a hitter.”