Tatsunori Hara is back for his 13th season as Yomiuri Giants manager after a three-year sabbatical. During his first 12 seasons, from 2002 to 2003, and then again from 2006 to 2015, Hara won seven Central League pennants. During that time, he also earned some attention for using lots of second basemen.
When Hara I suggested he had left in 2015 because he had exhausted the nation’s supply of second baseman. A few weeks ago, sitting in for John Gibson on the Japan Baseball Weekly Podcast, Jason Coskrey, quipped that seeing the Giants employ third baseman Casey McGehee at second base in 2017 had rekindled the skipper’s desire to return.
“Maybe that’s why he came back,” Coskrey said. “‘You didn’t tell me I could put ANYBODY at second base.'”
Or maybe Hara’s sensibilities were offended when his successor and protege, Yoshinobu Takahashi, used 26 second basemen in his three years in charge.
Well now Hara is back, and although he may bring back his “Who’s my second baseman” smartphone app, it seems likely he’ll need the latest update that includes catchers after Ginjiro Sumitani joined the Giants as a free agent on Saturday.
Sumitani, who last season been forced out of the No. 1 spot he’d held down for a decade by a catcher who can really hit, Tomoya Mori, said Saturday he wants a chance to compete for a job again. That’s great, but the Giants are flush with catchers.
Their incumbent regular, Seiji Kobayashi, caught in 119 games last season, while his chief backup Takumi Oshiro, caught in 66. Former captain Shinnosuke Abe, who hasn’t caught since he played in 25 games behind the plate in 2015, has said he wants to catch again — probably because the emergence of 22-year-old corner infielder Kazuma Okamoto as cleanup hitter means playing time at first is about to get scarce.
Until three years ago, Sumitani was the Pacific League’s premier defensive catcher, and probably will be the best defensive option open to Hara. Abe remains a smart and dangerous hitter and an unquestioned leader. Kobayashi has earned his regular spot and might still improve a lot defensively although he is no slouch now.
Elsewhere, the Giants met with free-agent center fielder of the Hiroshima Carp on Saturday, with Hara taking part in the talks, urging the 2017 Central League MVP to bring “new blood” to the team.