Tag Archives: Yomiuri Giants

NPB 2021: Jan. 7 news

Smoak and mirai

Justin Smoak has agreed to contract terms with the Yomiuri Giants, the two-time defending champs of Japan’s Central League announced Thursday. The contract is reportedly a two-year deal worth $3 million a year.

The Giants who in 2020 failed to win Japan’s pro baseball championship for a franchise-record eighth-straight year, have now brought in the 34-year-old switch-hitting first baseman Smoak, and proven slugging corner outfielder-first baseman Eric Thames.

Smoak is coming off a truly awful 36-game 2020 season in which he hit for decent power and struck out a lot but that was a small sample. The Giants are gambling he’ll revert to something like his major league career .322 OBP and .419 slug at home run-friendly Tokyo Dome, but $6 million seems a lot for that kind of production.

The acquisition will probably mean more time behind the plate for hard-hitting catcher Takumi Oshiro.

NPB offseason market place summary

Hawks add former Cup pitcher Rea

The Pacific League champion SoftBank Hawks said Thursday they have agreed to terms with 30-year-old right-hander Colin Rea while negotiations to re-sign lefty Matt Moore are not progressing as hoped Hochi Shimbun reported.

According to the Hawks, the 1.96-meter Rae has a 153-kph fastball he supplements with a curve, slider and change.

The Hawks wanted to re-sign Moore and were unable to reserve him, while they also non-tendered veteran right-hander Rick van den Hurk.

“He put up solid numbers in Triple A, and I’ve heard he has a strong desire to play in Japan. As he adapts to the different culture and playing syle here, that would be a plus,” Hochi quoted Hawks GM Sugihiko Mikasa as saying.

Swallows Murakami latest to test positive

Yakult Swallows first baseman Munetaka Murakami, the CL’s 2019 rookie of the year, and last year’s Best Nine winner at age 20, has tested positive for the novel coronavirus, the club announced Thursday.

Five players who had been in close contact with Murakami, including veteran outfielder Norichika Aoki, have all tested negative.

Murakami is the latest in what has been a daily reporting of new cases as Japan announced a new state of emergency for Tokyo and three surrounding prefectures. On Thursday, Tokyo announced 2,000 new infections for the first time.

On Wednesday, Hanshin Tigers pitcher Minoru Iwata‘s infection was announced, while Lotte Marines’ pitcher Ayumu Ishikawa was named on Tuesday.

Sumo grand champion Hakuho has also contracted the virus and has been hospitalized.

Yomiuri offers Sugano backdoor exit

As the posting deadline for ace pitcher Tomoyuki Sugano to complete a contract with a major league club, his Japanese team, the Central League’s Yomiuri Giants have offered him a four-year contract with annual opt-out options in an effort to keep him here, Nikkan Sports reported Monday.

Although the 31-year-old is reportedly seeing more lucrative offers from MLB clubs, he has also expressed concern about playing in the States due to the greater risk of coronavirus infection. Japan’s teams played a 120-game schedule, with only the first few weeks behind closed doors, and only one game was canceled out of concern for possible infections.

The Giants’ offer would allow him to be a free agent next year, something he will achieve on his own if he plays a full season here in 2021.

The deadline for Sugano, who is currently in the United States, to sign a deal is 5 pm Friday EST.

Sugano leaves for U.S.

Yomiuri Giants ace Tomoyuki Sugano traveled to the United States on Friday to meet with agent Joel Wolfe, Sponichi Annex reported on Saturday, citing a source.

The 31-year-old Sugano, the pick of available players moving from Japan this winter, has long expressed a desire to play in the majors, but has also voiced concern about playing there in 2021 with the coronavirus pandemic still raging.

His deadline to sign a contract after being posted by the Giants of Japan’s Central League is Thursday, 5 p.m., EST.

Giants want DH — but CL isn’t Ready to Switch

Japan’s Central League resoundingly rejected a Yomiuri Giants proposal to adopt the designated hitter rule on Monday.

The Yomiuri idea is interesting because it’s novel. The Giants, Japan’s oldest existing pro baseball team, although not its first as Yomiuri likes to pronounce, have a history of pretty much doing whatever they want.

When Yomiuri thinks change is in its selfish best interest at the expense of its business partners, then it’s time to be progressive. Whenever a change threatens the team’s monopoly on power or influence, then Yomiuri falls back on how baseball is all about tradition.

Twenty-seven years ago, Yomiuri forced the other teams to adopt free agency because the Giants wanted to skim off other clubs’ veterans, never mind that it would cause other clubs’ salaries to jump. Free agency destroyed the Hiroshima Carp’s dynasty, but that was a price Yomiuri was willing to pay for the sake of giving players their just desserts.

The proposal stated three reasons: 1) the extra stress imposed by the coronavirus, 2) CL pitchers got hurt more this year, and 3) fans don’t want to see pitchers giving away their at-bats by swinging fruitlessly or keeping their bats on their shoulders. This last one, the proposal said was unacceptable from the standpoint of a professional organization.

No. 3 is probably the most likely, and for the reason Hara suggested–that the Giants, having not won a Japan Series for eight straight seasons, a franchise record, need to get away from tradition in order to rectify that situation. The DH, I would argue, is a small part of the puzzle, but far from the only one.

The gap – why is the Pacific League stronger?

The idea that a DH would make Japanese professional baseball stronger is probably true. But there are other things that would make pro baseball stronger that the Giants are dead set against, such as joint licensing and marketing, because they would diminish the Giants roles as the kings of Japan’s small pro baseball hill.

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Uehara takes aim at system again

On Thursday, former major leaguer Koji Uehara took aim at the posting system in a column for Yahoo Sports.

Readers will probably know I’ve been a big fan of Uehara’s wildcat stances for players’ rights and against Japanese baseball’s status quo. When Tsuneo Watanabe, then the Yomiuri Giants’ autocratic owner said he’d release any player who was so low as to send an agent to contract negotiations, Uehara sent an agent. The team didn’t release their ace as Watanabe promised, saying the lawyer who negotiated on Uehara’s behalf wasn’t an agent but a “consultant.”

Going postal

In the wake of the Giants’ posting of pitcher Shun Yamaguchi a year ago, and their current ace, Tomoyuki Sugano, this winter, Uehara recalled his own experience with that process and said the system needs to be fixed to make it less arbitrary.

In 2005, when he requested Yomiuri post him, the Giants blasted their star in public, calling him “selfish” and a player “who does whatever he wants.”

“I don’t want to complain (about my treatment). What I want is a standardized system. Currently, a player can ask to be posted and if the team can say ‘No’ and that discussion is over in one minute.”

–former major leaguer Koji Uehara

That might be OK if players could choose to play for a team that will post them, but most are not in that position.

Uehara argues for giving a player the right to post himself after eight years of service time. This takes the coy game of players being sly about their desires to play in the States, and simply allows a player to say “I’m going” and be done with it.

From pillar to posting system

He said the issue is that posting is 100 percent up to teams and that clubs with deep pockets like Yomiuri and the SoftBank Hawks, can afford to let their free agents go to the States without compensation, while other clubs, who have posted their stars, can’t.

The irony in Yomiuri’s rejecting the posting system for 20 years is that by forcing other teams to accept free agency, Yomiuri unwittingly created a door for Japanese stars to move to the majors without compensation. Not long after free agency was introduced, Hideo Nomo’s success in MLB created a market for Japanese talent. Once that happened, Japanese teams on tighter budgets to get value for stars before they went to the majors as free agents.

No quick fixes

But while it’s easy to say, let’s have automatic posting after eight years of service time, it’s just a patch on a particularly ugly system of labor control that is a legacy of America’s Gilded Age.

The pitcher recently argued for automatic free agency, which would instantly make every player with the necessary service time a free agent. In both cases, he aims to let the system shoulder the burden that players now must carry on their own shoulders of whether to file for free agency or to ask their team to be posted.

And though his solutions are simple to grasp, they would require major changes to the rules, and since the Japanese Professional Baseball Players Association is relatively powerless, the owners are in no hurry to undertake systematic reform.

Even if change improves the business, the effort needed eats up time and energy. Besides, as long as things function the way they’re supposed to — even if that way makes no sense — no one in baseball thinks there’s a problem.

The solution at hand

Actually, players don’t need any kind of structural change to force teams to post them, as the SoftBank Hawks could likely tell you. They do, however, need the guts as amateurs to say, “Do it or else.”

A year ago, the Hawks and the Giants passed over a generational talent in the draft, 100-mph high school pitcher Roki Sasaki. The pitcher, who could have opted to turn pro in the States, met with teams interested in him prior to the draft and may well have demanded a contractual agreement to be posted.

This is something that amateurs have a right to do in Japan that they don’t have when turning pro with major league clubs, because of the shape and structure of NPB contracts. The risk, of course, is that teams will discard their draft picks and refuse to sign them — Japanese teams receive no compensation picks for unsigned draft picks.

Having individuals buck the system and make individual demands, as Uehara did, is what he’s aiming to avoid. But simply putting a patch on pro baseball’s autocratic norms won’t change the deeper problem.

The real problem

The problem is not the posting system, but the draft and reserve clause. These deny amateur ballplayers the right to freely negotiate and then tie them to their teams indefinitely.

The current system paints this as normal. Even fans, who would shudder at submitting to that kind of control over their own careers, consider it’s OK for ballplayers to have no choice or freedom, because, well, “It’s normal.”

An ideal solution

But there’s no reason why a more normal framework wouldn’t work, and pro soccer is a great model.

Teams and players can negotiate with whoever they like and agree to fixed-length contracts from Day 1. Players can move when they themselves and both teams agree to the terms, without any of this “players cannot claim any of the money involved in the transfer” nonsense.

Rosters could be limited to keep wealthy teams from hoarding the best talent, while development issues could be solved by having real minor leagues with the same rights over their players that the top flight leagues enjoy.

Applying a normal solution to the radically abnormal pro baseball situation we take for granted may be hard to fathom, but that’s no reason it wouldn’t work. It would be different, and difference in baseball is often interpreted to mean bad, but an organic, humanistic system could be a whole lot better.

I don’t know about you, but I’d find it a lot easier to support Individuals and teams that come together organically instead of having their movements within the system structured the way mazes structure the movement of laboratory rats.

It’s not like it will ever happen, but the world would be a saner and more reasonable place if people didn’t think that autocracy.

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Series notes Nov. 18

This will be the first time since 2007, that teams will be meeting in the Japan Series for the second straight year. That last series in 2007 ended in dramatic fashion as journeyman Daisuke Yamai and future Hall of Famer Hitoki Iwase combined on a 1-0 perfect game clincher to beat Yu Darvish.

The time before that, the Yakult Swallows beat the Seibu Lions to win the 1993 series after losing the year before. The Dragons did that in 2007 as well, coming back to win after losing the first time.

This will be the 13th time for a Japan Series rematch the following year, and the Yomiuri Giants may be hoping that recent history points in their favor. Prior to the Swallows and Dragons winning the rematch, the previous year’s runners-up were 0-10 against the previous year’s champs.

This will be the Giants’ 10th rematch in franchise history, and the Hawks’ fourth — and their fourth rematch against Yomiuri. The teams last faced off in the infamous 2000 “brain surgeon” series — the schedule had to be juggled after Daiei rented out their home park to a neurosurgeon’s convention.

The Giants’ lead their Japan Series series 9-2, with the Hawks’ only win prior to 2019 coming in 1959. The Hawks’ 2019 sweep was the sixth in series history, with both the Hawks’ championships over the Giants coming in four games. The Giants are the first team in the 71-year history of the competition to return to the Japan Series after being swept the previous year.