Thursday, December 28, 2017

Official Signings & Daisuke Matsuzaka Pursuit News

Matsuzaka beef stocks rising

Since my last post there has been a little bit of movement on the Daisuke Matsuzaka saga. While team owner Bungo Shirai essentially called the former flamethrower useless, the following day he made a 180 degree turn and okayed the pursuit of the aging righty.

The latest news is that the Dragons have offered Matsuzaka an opportunity to

show off his wares in a "test" taking place in late January 2018. Dragons reps will be watching over Dice-K's progress in the meantime checking in on training sessions but the ultimate decision will likely be made after the one day trial at Nagoya dome. There's already a bit of fluff surrounding this as Matsuzaka will be taking his Yokohama High School catcher and former Chunichi Dragons player and staff member, Yoshio Koyama to catch for him during the trial.

The Dragons have more or less said that if he can still throw and has reasonable contract conditions, the team will have a serious look at him. This does seems to be a bit of a media masquerade but the Dragons haven't really been in the limelight for some time and it makes sense to make a move like this. Popularity is in a bit of a lull thanks to sub-par results and the Matsuzaka side-show might grab a few more headlines to keep the team relevant.

The team will make it's decision before Spring camp. We'll then see what we can expect after that.

Dragons add more Latin flavour

The team has otherwise made the signings of Zoilo Almonte, Steven Moya and Onelki Garcia official. All three players will be signing incentive laden, one-year, 50M yen (approx $500k) deals. This is, well, to say the least incredibly cheap. Alex Guerrero's one-year deal added up to about the sum that all three are getting. Whether this is an indication of their quality or not is something I'm not sure of but the signings of these players represent a low-risk high reward scenario for the Dragons. Whether Mori and the scouting department have really done a deal here, I don't know, but only time will tell. Personally I think Almonte is going to be a very good capture while I think that Garcia will be useful. Moya seems like a guy that will strikeout a lot, but if he can get some semblance of plate discipline together he could be a contributor. Numbers have also been decided. Almonte will wear Guerrero's 42 while Moya will wear Raul Valdes' 44. Garcia will wear the 70 which was vacated by Tetsuya Tani who took on the 58.

On joining the Dragons the 3 new captures had this to say:

Zoilo Almonte - 42

Zoilo Almonte
"I am extremely happy to be able to play for the Dragons in 2018. I am currently
playing in the Dominican Winter League. I would like to get ready for the season and help the Dragons reach the playoffs and contribute 100% of my power to helping the team win.
I'm also planning to grow my trademark beard before coming to Japan. I look forward to your support!"

Steven Moya - 44

Steven Moya
"I am very happy to be able to join Japan's Chunichi Dragons for the 2018 season.
I hope to proactively learn about Japan's language and culture and learn how to adapt to Japanese baseball as soon as possible. I would like to try my very best for my family and my incoming children to contribute to a Dragons victory"

Onelki Garcia - 70

Onelki Garcia
"I am very happy to say that I have signed a contract with the Chunichi Dragons for 2018. My motto is to throw with my heart and I will try my best to contribute to a team victory."

All three players are hoped to be available from the start of spring training unlike foreign captures in previous years who have been allowed to arrive a bit later than the Japanese players.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

News and Rumours: Onelki Garcia incoming, the Heisei Monster to tear down Spring training?

A couple of interesting point to bring to you this off-season as the Dragons look to the strengthen, reboot and make themselves relevant.

One of the interesting pieces of news to come in is that the team will not only be installing Trackman, but are currently looking to establish a department devoted to analysing the data. This is quite a big step for a team that is on the conservative side of things. Even considering the Central League, which is generally filled with the more conservative old boys of Japanese baseball, the Dragons are a bit old school so this is a surprising move toward modern baseball thinking. The team is looking to get experts to give lectures on analysing Trackman data as well as getting club scorers and staff in on the ground level to ensure the team isn't left behind by the rest of the league.

In roster news, as mentioned in the previous post, the Dragons were after 2 foreign pitchers at the winter meetings. It appears as though one of those targets has been revealed as sources close to the Kansas City Royals have confirmed that Cuban southpaw Onelki Garcia is on his way to the Dragons.
This is certainly a relief signing but it also spells a bit of concern to me. Looking over Garcia's minor league numbers there's nothing to be overly impressed about. He has a high ERA, a high WHIP, bad FIP and so-so SO/9 numbers. The only thing that sticks out is his one season in Chicago with the White Sox where  he had a 12.23 SO/9 in 17.2 AA innings along with a 11.27 SO/9 in 38.1 innings in AAA. With the Omaha Storm Chasers (AAA) in 2017, Garcia started half of his 20 games with a pretty bad 4.88 xFIP. His BABIP was an insanely high .435 which indicates he was a bit unlucky while Fangraphs predicts that should get down to around .297 in 2018 which is just about right. A 7.4% FB/HR rating should play well in Nagoya with even bigger fields so there might be some upside to this signing.
Garcia started his MLB career with the LA Dodgers.

Garcia throws a 93 mph four seam pitch and generates a generous amount of spin with MLB clocking his average at 2,101rpm which should put him in good company in the NPB. I was pretty skeptical of this signing on first glance, but a look at Garcia's peripherals and what he can otherwise offer, I'm keen to see what he can do for the Dragons.

It will be interesting to see if Garcia will be expected to start, but it seems perhaps unwise to stretch him out too much. We might see him be a bullpen guy that will get spot starts. He's a lefty and with only Iwase really being the most active LHP in the bullpen last year, it makes sense to bolster those options. Toshiya Okada should however be back and Ryuya Ogawa is always there to bolster the bullpen.

Otherwise, if you've been keeping your finger on the pulse you may have noticed that former Boston Red Sox and Seibu Lions star, Daisuke Matsuzaka is looking for one last hurrah before throwing in the towel. The injury ridden starter had a torrid time at the Softbank Hawks pitching only one inning in the first team where he gave up 2 earned runs in the 3 years he was with the club after returning to Japan from the New York Mets. It was a generous $4 million a year deal that really didn't work out for the Hawks at all.
Will the former major leaguer ever see the first team again?

After being released by the Hawks in November, Matsuzaka and his team have been sounding out NPB clubs and even clubs in Taiwan for one last crack at the big time. The 37-year old received and offer for a try-out in Taiwan but it appears there has been a bite closer to home, you guessed it, the Dragons.

If the news can be believed, and there are half a dozen outlets reporting this, the Dragons look very likely to be targeting Matsuzaka and are extending an invitation to him to join Spring camp. The only major stumbling point is likely to be the wage that Matsuzaka will ask for. Outlets are claiming he'll drop his demands to the $150 - $200k range but even then that's a lot for a guy that's not guaranteed to be good enough to pitch innings in the first team particularly when you consider that his addition would upset roster flexibility and take away innings from young arms on the farm.

This signing is not the most unlikely thing to happen this off-season. The Dragons have been reportedly nosing around veteran help to foster the development of the young core of pitchers the team has. Whether Matsuzaka is the right kind of veteran is another thing, but if nothing else he will give the Dragons some much needed time in the spotlight as they force themselves to be newsworthy for their results once more. Cynically speaking, this a publicity stunt but perhaps the presence of the "Heisei Monster" will boost morale a bit and give the younger pitchers someone to look to for advice and guidance.

Realistically, outside of a pity appearance at the end of the season, I don't see Matsuzaka as fixable. His efforts on the farm last year were barely mentionable and his form seems to be in a complete mess. I am concerned that signing Matsuzaka means fewer appearances on the mound for guys that still have a lot to prove and can be the Dragons backbone for many years to come and give the state of the club I think the team needs to pass on this opportunity. Media attention will be much greater if "Dice-K" signs on in Nagoya, but I sincerely doubt it's worth the potential cost to player development.

Monday, December 11, 2017

2018 Off-season acquisitions: Guerrero gone; Zoilo Almonte, Steven Moya, Shota Ono in.

The Dragons have shed the roster along with most of their foreign players ahead of the 2018 season. Araujo, Rondon and Valdes were turfed early due to poor performance or optimistic contract expectations, while it has recently been revealed that Alex Guerrero will no be returning to the club after taking Central League homerun champions honours in 2017. Somewhat surprisingly as well, Jordan Norberto appears once again to have been released. The Dominican lefty was released from the club in 2016 only to be re-signed after few better options were found. This seems an unlikely course of action this time around as the Swallows are hovering to capture the former A's man.

That leaves only Dayan Viciedo whom was underwhelming in his second season aside from some hot streaks. He had his issues with injury and spent a month away from the team finalizing his US citizenship where he took a leave of absence. The club seems to like him however and I would be surprised if he weren't retained possibly at a slightly decreased rate than his initial signing of a two year $3.5M deal.

That brings us to speculation over who Mori and the scouting crew have found over in the US, DR and Cuba over the last month or so and who they've turned up in the FA market.

Through foreign recruiting three names have come up in the media. Former Baltimore Orioles slugger and 2013 American League homerun king, Pedro Alvarez is one but negotiations appear to have broken down.
Former Yankee Almonte with Aichi native, Ichiro Suzuki.

The second name mentioned from the get-go was Zoilo Almonte, a Dominican switch-hitting outfielder who previously played for the New York Yankees in the MLB. Almonte has recently come off a year playing in the Mexican Baseball League with Sultanes de Monterrey. Almonte appears to be able to hit for average and power and has a very appealing stat line in Mexico. He was previously well lauded within the Yankees organisation but fell on hard times and bounced around the minors in Atlanta before heading to Mexico. Almonte has the ability to hit for power and average who looks like a significant upgrade on Fujii but maybe not quite as good an acquisition as Alex Guerrero. The 28 year-old hit 35 homers in two seasons for Monterrey at an average of .321 and a .897OPS. Almonte actually looks like a very handy little acquisition. I had a quick chat with former Dragons 1st baseman, Matt Clark about Almonte whom he has come up against in Mexico and it was his belief that Almonte should do pretty well in Japan. I certainly hope so and I'm quietly optimistic he will add plenty of danger to the line-up.

Almonte has 5 HR's in 141ABs for Aguilas in the Dominican Winter League this year at a passable .262 average with a .755OPS. 
Moya was a top prospect with the Detroit Tigers in 2014
Steven Moya is a Puerto Rican outfielder from the Detroit Tigers organisation. As recently as 2014 he won the Tigers minor leaguer of the year award but somehow it's all fallen apart in recent years. Moya is said to moving to the Dragons on a one year contract. The former Tigers starlet stands at a staggering 2 meters tall which would make him one of top 3 tallest players in NPB alongside Fighters closer Chris Martin and Baystars starter Phil Klein. Moya's profile seems to be one of a frustrated power hitter who seems to strike out a lot. His stats in MLB with the Tigers aren't the worst with a .250 average 5HR and 11RBIs in 422 PAs but his 2017 season in AAA and later AA sealed his fate as a failed prospect in Detroit. He has been playing in the Dominican Winter League in the off-season which is where Mori and his team likely ran into him.  He hasn't been all that good in Winter League play either as he's currently averaging .203 with .619OPS with Toros del Este.

Moya is an outfielder, which if we add Almonte to the mix means we have a fairly busy looking set of positions. Almonte seems like a lock for left, while Moya, a right-fielder by trade, is likely to compete with Ryosuke Hirata for a shot. I don't know what the contract numbers are, but I can't imagine Moya will be on a lot. All murmurs surrounding Hirata is that he is working to get back to fighting fitness for next year. If fit, Hirata is certainly a lock for right-field given his defensive capabilities and high average with RISP. If Moya is on around $500-700k it represents a low-risk investment for if and when Hirata doesn't work out this year and it also offers insurance for injuries. It also however spells a vote of no confidence in the abilities of Yusuke Matsui, Atsushi Fujii, Hiroki Kondo, Masataka Iryo and others who were called up and did reasonably in those positions in the tail end of last season. As it stands however, I'll be surprised if Moya can turn it around even in the 2-gun.

Both Almonte and Moya have now been confirmed by various sources as having signed with the club and there is apparently an expectation on the Chunichi side that they both report with the rest of the Japanese staff on the starting day of Spring training. Foreign signings in the past have been given leeway on this point, but the Dragons want to get them and work with them as soon as possible.

No other names have been mentioned so far but Dragons representative are attending the Winter Meeting in Florida looking specifically for starting pitchers. The team is looking for two arms that can slot into the rotation. There is also a strong likelihood that development contracted Raidel Martinez will be added to the first team roster giving us a total of 3 international arms. The team is also on the look out for one more bat, but the rumours so far have been a catcher on a development contract from either the DR or Cuba.
Shota Ono will take the catcher's mask in Nagoya.

That brings us to one of the longer ongoing sagas of the off-season, the signing of Nippon Ham Fighters catcher, Shota Ono. Ever since the end of the season there have been murmurs of the team looking for a new catcher. I mentioned this in my post about the future of the Dragons early in November. As of the 11th of December however, Ono will officially sign-on as a Dragon after accepting a 3 year $2.5M deal. This works out to around $833,000 a year..ish which will make him the third highest earning fielder after Yohei Oshima and Ryosuke Hirata.

Ono's capture comes after the Dragons failed to find a regular catcher this year. Sugiyama, Matsui, Kinoshita and Takeyama all had significant spells in the first team this year and none of them really had it all. Matsui got the closest to being called the default starting catcher, but it was simply a continuing story of who will take over the dish full-time in the post-Tanishige era. After feeling unsatisfied with in-house options, the Dragons looked on the open market and found Shota Ono, a native of Ogaki in neighbouring Gifu prefecture open to a move closer to home.

If you look at Ono's 2017 slash line, as a batter he hasn't really done much better than Masato Matsui this year. Behind the plate, his ability to catch runners decreased as well but the hope will be that given his guidance, the younger group of pitchers at the Dragons might have the confidence to grow more and more. Ono helped mentor the MLB bound Shohei Otani, 2015 ROTY Kohei Arihara, 2016 ROTY Hirotoshi Takanashi, Takayuki Kato and a host of other pitchers to make in the professional baseball. One can't deny the prodigious talent of Otani, but Ono has surely left a mark on many of those named above which is what the Dragons are banking on. Also, as a recent Japan Series winner, I guess the hope would be that Ono can help bring in a winning mentality to the team.

The interesting caveat is not that the Dragons gain Ono, which is of course all well and good, but it's who the team stands to lose. With FA transactions in the NPB, the team who signs the FA player must then return compensation to the club that has lost that player. The Dragons can protect up to 28 players on the roster from being taken as compensation. This opens up an interesting conversation over who the Fighters would be interested in versus who the Dragons are willing to give up.
I've seen a couple of theories so far, but I'd like to take some time here to discuss who we can and should leave unprotected with reasons for the more eyebrow raising selections.

Shinnosuke OgasawaraShinji Tajima Hitoki Iwase
Yu SatoKatsuki MatayoshiYuya Yanagi
Shota SuzukiKazuki YoshimiToshiya Okada
Yudai OnoKoji FukutaniTaisuke Maruyama
Daisuke YamaiTakuma AchiraDaisuke Sobue
Takuya AsaoTakuya MitsumaShotaro Kasahara
Kento FujishimaRyuya OgawaKeisuke Tanimoto
Shunta WakamatsuRyosuke OgumaJunki Ito

I'm playing the percentages a little bit here, but also throwing caution to the wind with others. What the Fighters want is pitching after losing Otani to the MLB and Hirotoshi Masui to the Buffaloes. First of all, there's no need to protect veterans as the Fighters won't want them. Yoshimi, Asao, Yamai and Iwase should be safe. Wakamatsu and Fukutani are the two that are enticing pieces that the Fighters might be interested in. My reason for including them is that whatever we're doing, it's clearly not working. Wakamatsu is still a one-trick pony and he's not particularly well liked in Nagoya. However, if he can develop a couple of more dangerous breaking balls, he's a good looking-starter. At present thought he has a fastball that can't take strikes and a change-up that is being sat on by batters all over the NPB. Fukutani I would leave unprotected because Hiroshi Suzuki is coming in, a very similar type of pitcher and because we have quite a few right-arm relievers that are doing the job. I've also protected anyone under 21 and anyone drafted last year. Tanimoto I leave out simply because I doubt the Fighters would take him back so soon after letting him leave.

Takuya KinoshitaMasato MatsuiTakuma Kato
Iori KatsuraShota SugiyamaShingo Takeyama

I am not a fan of Matsui and given his closeness in age to Ono, it makes little sense to keep him. Kinoshita and Sugiyama have the highest ceilings out of this group and are still young enough to challenge Ono for the position in the future. Kato and Katsura have fallen down the pecking order and should be left unprotected. The Fighters aren't likely to take a catcher as they seem to have a few.

Masahiro ArakiShuhei TakahashiToshiki Abe
Shun IshikawaIssei EndoMasami Ishigaki
Ryota IshiokaTaiki MitsumataHayato Mizowaki
Yota KyodaKyohei KamezawaNobumasa Fukuda
Naomichi DonoueTetsuya Tani

I was very tempted to leave Donoue out before I realised it would leave us with no immediate cover at short so he stays for his glove and as the club's only real utility infielder. Araki stays unprotected as like the veteran pitchers he's very unlikely to be poached while the other unprotected players would no significant loss. Ishigaki and Mizowaki could be the future of the infield so they stay and Kamezawa just had his best season in Dragons colours and is a clubhouse leader so he definitely stays. The others speak for themselves.

Shota TomonagaAtsushi FujiiRyosuke Hirata
Yohei OshimaMasataka IryoKei Nomoto
Yusuke MatsuiTakahito KudoHiroki Kondo

Outfielder decisions are a little easier. Hirata and Oshima are arguably two of the clubs best hitters while Matsui had a great hot streak at the end of this year. Fujii had a great year too but he's 37 and an unlikely choice. Kondo is the only one I was a little worried about, but I don't think he's done enough to be an appealing piece.

Largely, I think the Fighters will look to take a pitcher in compensation or some cash. Leaving Wakamatsu and Fukutani unprotected should focus the Fighters pursuit of some of our other talent. Personally, I don't think the team is missing out if we put those two out to dry. I really like Fukutani and would love for him to stay but something tells me he'd thrive at the Fighters so I'd be okay with him leaving if he goes on to bigger and better things.

Overall, is there enough here to get excited about? Kind of. I think Almonte and Ono will big big deciding factors on how our season goes this year. Ono's ability to lead the pitchers is going to be important and his acquisition will also remove any doubts over who will be wearing the mask the majority of the season. Someone with considerable experience catching is going to be a positive I feel for this team and will aid the development of the likes of Suzuki, Yanagi, Ogasawara, Kasahara and co.

We're still on the lookout for pitchers at the Winter Meetings, but we'll see what comes back. I'm not going to hold my breath and in a way I'm okay with the team the way it is.

Monday, November 13, 2017

2018 Contract Negotiations: Money, money, money

It's hit the time for contract updates in the off season as the current roster is assessed on this year's performances while the 2017 draftees get signed up.

This should give us a bit of an idea as to how much we have on the wage bill. The Dragons were 12th in overall wage in 2017 and with the retirement of Masahiko Morino and Daisuke Yamai's contract running out, there will no doubt be little change to the Dragons rankings in 2018. Just losing those two adds an extra $2,000,000 a year to play with. With few outstanding performers last year, there shouldn't be any massive movers upwards but I'd expect Kyoda, Fukuda, Ogasawara, Suzuki and Kasahara to all get notable increases.

Losing Akasaka and Nomura, former #1 picks, also frees up about $200k.

As this is ongoing, I will be updating this table each day as more information comes to hand. I have included the draftees that have not yet been signed to a contract on this list as well as those that have as we know they'll be getting something eventually. Hopefully by the end of the month we'll have a better picture of what the overall wage bill is and how we'll look in 2018.

For the sake of simplicity and to make it easier to understand I've gone with a straight 100 yen = $1 approach. Please also note that an asterisk denotes farm appearances as that player has not played with the first team. Also note that 未 refers to undecided.

Update: Now that the numbers have been finalised I'll be doing a more in depth analysis in a follow-up post. Dayan Viciedo and Jordan Norberto appear to still be up in the air with the latter apparently having been released.

In a short summary, big increases were given to Tajima and Matayoshi whom have proven to be the elite relievers in the team. Big decreases were given to Yamai whose $1.2M per/year deal ended in 2017 and to Keisuke Tanimoto who still probably signed for more that his worth. In terms of hitters, Kyoda and Oshima were given the biggest increases on the back of significant 2017 stats while the catchers Sugiyama and Katsura took hits to their cheque books.

Shinji Tajima27CP$1,100,000.00 $280k6325342.87
Katsuki Mataysohi27RP$880,000.00 $380k508302.13
Keisuke Tanimoto32RP$850,000.00 $150k180106.00
Yudai Ono29SP$800,000.00 $64k247804.02
Hitoki Iwase43RP$750,000.00 $250k503624.79
Kazuki Yoshimi33SP$750,000.00 $50k143705.23
Daisuke Yamai39SP$720,000.00 $480k22001.50
Onelki Garcia28RP$500,000.00 FA Signing
Toshiya Okada25RP$310,000.00 $90k90205.14
Daisuke Sobue30RP$290,000.00 $10k352212.57
Koji Fukutani26RP$280,000.00 $70k251105.74
Shunta Wakamatsu22SP$250,000.00 $50k71405.55
Shinnosuke Ogasawara20SP$210,000.00 $30k225804.84
Junki Ito26RP$170,000.00 $95k390203.88
Hiroshi Suzuki20CP$150,000.00 #1 Pro Draft Pick
Yuya Yanagi23SP$145,000.00 $5k111404.47
Ryuya Ogawa26RP$120,000.00 $10k180002.19
Ryosuke Oguma27SP$120,000.00 $20k40309.53
Shota Suzuki22SP$120,000.00 $75k155504.17
Takuya Mitsuma25RP$120,000.00 $76k352104.06
Shotaro Kasahara22SP$120,000.00 $40k181303.14
Yu Sato24RP$110,000.00 $10k132005.40
Hiroto Fuku25RP$100,000.00 $30k50007.94
Tatsuro Hamada23SP$85,000.00 $12.5k-----
Takuma Achira24SP$80,000.00 -40104.85
Taisuke Maruyama22RP$75,000.00 $3k80008.25
Sho Ishikawa18SP$70,000.00 #2 Pro Draft Pick
Tatsuya Shimizu18RP$60,000.00 #4 Pro Draft Pick
Tomohiro Hamada25RP$56,300.00 -6*0000.00
Takumi Yamamoto17SP$55,000.00 #6 Pro Draft Pick
Kento Fujishima19SP$54,000.00 -5*0106.75
Masashi Yamamoto23RP$45,000.00 ------
Yusuke Kinoshita24SP$30,000.00 -22*---6.14
Shu Yoshida21SP$30,000.00 -3*0002.45
Mikihiro Nishihama24P$30,000.00 ------
Akito Okura23P$30,000.00 #1 2017 Development Pick
Kento Mark Ishida22P$30,000.00 #2 2017 Development Pick

Yohei Oshima32OF$1,800,000.00 $300k1190.31332923
Ryosuke Hirata29OF$1,200,000.00 -660.2446294
Shota Ono30C$833,000.00FA Signing
Masahiro Araki39IF$700,000.00 $4k850.249085
Atsushi Fujii36OF$550,000.00 $150k1280.2656425
Zoilo Almonte28OF$500,000.00FA Signing
Steven Moya26OF$500,000.00FA Signing
Yota Kyoda23IF$400,000.00 $280k1410.26443623
Nobumasa Fukuda29IF$360,000.00 $135k950.27118490
Naomichi Donoue29IF$300,000.00 $30k910.205180
Kyohei Kamezawa29IF$260,000.00 $80k980.2872136
Takahito Kudo36OF$210,000.00 $20k820.235003
Masato Matsui30C$200,000.00 $65k870.2212170
Shota Sugiyama26C$200,000.00 $58k390.091000
Shuhei Takahashi23IF$165,000.00 $25k410.2332100
Yusuke Matsui30OF$160,000.00 $43k560.2774180
Shingo Takeyama33C$150,000.00 $30k500.227170
Tetsuya Tani32IF$130,000.00 $17.5k530.2172110
Takuya Kinoshita26C$120,000.00 $20k510.192040
Issei Endo28IF/OF$120,000.00 -500.2252112
Iori Katsura26C$113,000.00 $30k-----
Toshiki Abe27IF$100,000.00 -210.268021
Kei Nomoto33IF/OF$98,000.00 $32k150.200000
Masataka Iryo28OF$90,000.00 $10k220.219030
Hiroki Kondo24OF$81,000.00 $15k140.207110
Shota Tomonaga26OF$70,000.00 $5k50.250020
Ryota Ishioka25IF$70,000.00 $5k20.000000
Taiki Mitsumata25IF$70,000.00 $5k80.000000
Hayato Mizowaki23IF$65,000.00 $10k120.071110
Shun Ishikawa27IF$65,000.00 -90.353110
Wataru Takamatsu18IF$60,000.00 #3 Pro Draft Pick
Takuma Kato25C$55,000.00 -10.000000
Kosuke Ito18OF$55,000.00 #5 Pro Draft Pick
Masumi Ishigaki19IF$54,000.00 -10.000000
Masaru Watanabe24OF$30,000.00 -*670.2283163

Players Released/Retired
Rondon, Guerrero and Araujo all cut loose.

Elvis Araujo26RP--$800,000.0061006.48
Jorge Rondon29RP--$500,000.0040005.79
Raul Valdes39SP--$400,000.00236903.76
Jordan Norberto31RP--$300,000.00186402.30
Tomoya Yagi31SP--$150,000.00111404.47
Ryosuke Nomura24SP--$84,800.0060109.75
Takeshi Kaneko24RP--$60,000.00*394213.59
Junki Kishimoto21RP--$40,000.00*120003.75

Alex Guerrero31OF--$1,500,000.001300.27935861
Masahiko Morino39IF--$840,000.00220.244010
Kazuyuki Akasaka28OF--$100,000.00*500.2234120
Takeru Furumoto27OF--$46,000.00*240.146130
Ryuichiro Akada29C--$44,000.00*490.2171110
Tatsuro Iwasaki33IF--$40,000.0010.000000

Data correct as of 14th December 2017

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

The Future of the Chunichi Dragons : This year, next year and beyond

Now that the draft has finished and the post-season clean-out has all but happened let's have a look at the coming and goings and what the future is going to look like for the Dragons going forward. I'll be approaching this in 2 or 3 parts.

I've been crunching the numbers based mostly on age and position and have tried to see what the farm is looking like and what the team may look like in 5 years or so. As you might guess, there's still a fair bit that needs to be addressed but the old guard that featured so prominently in the 2014-15 season has been all but cleaned out with only Araki, Yamai and Iwase remaining of the veterans that took part in the 2007 Japan Series win.

There's still some ways to go with recruitment but to get the ball rolling, let's have a look at the in's and outs following the 2017 Draft and second round of senryokugai notices.

As you can see here, there's been a fairly big clean-out. For those that haven't been keeping tabs on my twitter or on the news, there's probably a few surprising names on this list. The biggest surprise in the first round of senryokgai notices was probably Ryosuke Nomura who was drafted #1 in 2014. It's rare for #1 picks to get turfed so early in their career but there hasn't been any signs of improvement from Nomura in recent years. Nomura was however not the only former #1 to go out the door as Kazuyuki Akasaka joined him on the scrap pile. Akasaka was originally drafted as a pitcher but injuries forced him to change to the outfield. He never quite converted and was hence rendered dispensable. Other names on this list are really no surprise if you consider their age and the kinds of numbers they've put up on the farm.
Yagi, Iwasaki, Nomura. Gone.

The second round of notices released after the draft contained two names that were perhaps a little surprising to see. Junki Kishimoto was only upgraded to a first team contract earlier this year after being with the team on a development contract for a few years but with 3 new pitchers coming in and limited opportunities available on the farm, it was deemed time for he and Kaneko to pack their bags. Kaneko was another 2014 pick that also hasn't really worked out the way anyone was hoping.

As for other releases, Valdes, Rondon and Araujo have all be confirmed to have not been offered new contracts for next year. Valdes can perhaps consider himself a little hard done by considering the amount of good work he put in particularly in the first half that earned him an All-Star call-up. Unfortunately, his age and reported demands for a 2-year deal saw him out the door. Rondon and Araujo however never looked like getting offered new deals. Araujo reportedly was not very well liked and Rondon had major control issues.

That brings us to the home run king, Alex Guerrero. The Dragons want to keep him and have been chasing him but Guerrero and his agent Scott Boras have been holding out for more money which the Dragons just can't seem to provide. By all accounts, Guerrero says Nagoya is his first choice, but if other teams offer more money, he's leaving. Mori is reportedly going to meet with Guerrero this off-season in the US to have a final set of negotiations but it appears as though the former Dodgers slugger will be heading off to "greener" pastures. Softbank Hawks seem like the most likely suitors in Japan with the Yomiuri Giants also mentioned, but a return to the MLB is not off the cards either. For all intents and purpose however, let's say he's gone.

The only retiree this year was Masahiko Morino who just couldn't find his bat this year. On the farm in 2016 he was averaging over .300 showing that he could offer something and did find some opportunities in the first team. This year he platooned DH with Guerrero in inter-league but that was about the entirety of his involvement as he struggled to hit either in the big leagues on on the farm. We will however keep seeing the Doala look-a-like on the farm however as he's been officially unveiled as the second team hitting coach.

All in all, we have 14 players out on their bums. Now let's have a look at who has come in so far and who we might be looking at.

Apart from the draft, the rest is speculative based on rumours and news that I've seen. 

4 right-handed pitchers were drafted this year to fill out the farm and the first team bullpen. Hiroshi Suzuki was of course the top pick who should slot right in, while the rest are very much ones for the future. 

For stop-gaps, the Dragons are rumoured to be after Yuya Kubo (Baystars), Hisashi Takeda (Fighters) and Eishi Soyohi (Carp) who have all recently been senryokugai's themselves. The thought I guess would be to add some experience to the bullpen or provide another option at third in Soyogi's case. I personally don't think we need them and they are no more than rumours so I haven't included them in my total incoming this time around. The big thing however is the chase for a catcher. Senior management have been very under-awed by the current group of catchers. Sugiyama completely fell out of favour this year despite being the team's OBP leader in 2016 while Katsura was consumed by injury and Kinoshita generally just got a run as the third catcher. I highlighted these 3 last year as an enviable trio, but Mori and his crew don't seem to be high on any of them. Masato Matsui and Shingo Takeyama saw a lot time behind the plate this year, but neither really scream long term option nor are they particularly outstanding themselves. 

Two names that have come up are Kyle Higashioka, a 4th generation Japanese-American in the Yankees organisation and Shota Ono, the Fighters first team catcher who looks to be electing for free agency this year. 
Ono or Higashioka on their way to Nagoya?
Higashioka would be the first foreign catcher the Dragons have had since David Nilsson in 2000. Yui Tomori seems to think that Higashioka has the kind of power to get 20 homers in the NPB and thinks that he'll be better behind the plate than current options. The major issue with hiring Higashioka will be the language barrier. According to reports, Higashioka has a rudimentary handle on Japanese and Spanish which he has picked up to help Masahiro Tanaka at the Yankees as well as the club's many Latin players however having a rudimentary knowledge of the language and being able to use it every day with pitchers, young pitchers at that, is going to be a challenge. The other issue is if Higashioka even wants to leave as he seems to be third in line to the Yankees mask behind Garry Sanchez and Austin Romine.

Shota Ono to me is the better option if Mori is fixated on bringing in a catcher. He will cost money but he won't cost a foreign player spot and he's a local boy having grown up in Ogaki in Gifu Prefecture. He's 30 so ideally has a few good years left in him but hasn't put up superb batting numbers in any sense. He has successfully guided the Fighters to a Japan Series win and has experience guiding younger pitchers like Kohei Arihara, Hirotoshi Takanashi, Shohei Otani and Takayuki Kato so he could be a good option to help the younger pitching staff out.

The only other possibilities that have been suggested are that Mori is looking for an MLB level pitcher to be the team's ace next year along with another starter. Cuba and the Dominican Republic are the most likely places where they'll find these guys given the team's and Mori's connections. However with Akinori Otsuka and Yui Tomori working over in the US, you never know what they might turn up.
It seems however that there aren't any plans to replace Alex Guerrero at this stage.

If we go after all the above players suggested, we would likely only have one roster spot for wiggle room which would likely be given to a developmental player either at the beginning or half-way through the season.

Let's now look at a projected roster for 2018 that I've put together that ignores possible new acquisitions and focuses on what we have now.  Viciedo hasn't resigned yet, but is likely to stay as with Jordan Norberto.

This give you a general look at what we'll probably look like next season. There will be injuries and fluctuations in form of course. I see only Suzuki as the draft member that can make the most immediate impact. Relying on Fujii for another year in left-field is going to be dangerous, but Yusuke Matsui showed at the end of this season that he can be a useful addition to the line-up. Kyohei Kamezawa put up very impressive numbers this year and will likely have the lions share of games and second. Araki will likely be appearing less and less while Shuhei Takahashi is a chance to play second as well if his bat is hot. Let's now have a look at what would likely be the back-ups for each position to get an idea of what depth we have.

I've omitted pitchers for this one as we have a bit of depth there, but if you look at the back-up option for each position, things start getting very thin and old. The only player here that is under 28 is Shuhei. It's a little worrying when there's no one younger realistically knocking on the door for these positions. Sugiyama, Kinoshita, Katsura and even Kato are still a look in for the mask which would add some needed youth to that position but there's not a whole lot here to be excited about. Hiroki Kondo is a name that could be thrown in here, but out of he and Endo battling at centre-field at the end of the season it was Endo that eventually got the nod. I'm quite concerned with our outfield depth and perhaps at the 2018 draft we might see some focus on college age outfielders to bolster that area. Kosuke Ito and Hiroki Kondo are really the only two names under 25 that are in the team. Masaru Watanabe is one other who might be offered a spot on the roster following his stint as a development player.

In terms of the immediate future, I don't think there's anything here to get one excited for 2018. The homerun production of Guerrero will largely be propped up by Fukuda and Viciedo next year as well as, hopefully, Ryosuke Hirata. I feel that there is enough about the pitching to see us have a decent year, plus if we are able to add the arms we're after we'll be in a good position but I still think a playoff spot is a little far away unless we see a massive up-tick in production from the likes of Hirata. 

Looking Forward

This team as it is, is going to be riddled with holes without significant reinforcement over the next few drafts. Outfield really needs to be addressed as does the corner infield positions. Catcher is also another area that the Dragons senior staff are really looking to strengthen and if you look at the kind of staff we have at the moment, unless someone clicks pretty soon, we're going to have issues down the track. 

To get a better idea of where the farm and where the team is at I've put together a couple of charts.

This is of the 2017 roster as of around when Tanimoto joined the team. You can see there there's a lot of players in that 26-30 range that should be reaching the peaks of their powers. Most of our outfielders are in that age group, but only Hirata is a relatively permanent first-team player. Others like Iryo and Tomonaga haven't really ever looked like usurping anyone. The biggest problem I can see is that we lack younger outfielders. High school talent is always a bit tricky but in the last 3-4 years or so, the Dragons really haven't looked at high schoolers. Ogasawara, Ishigaki and Fujishima were the only U-21 players on the roster in 2017 which is a bit disappointing. 

The image of the retirement village is slowly seeping away as there were only 6 over-36 y/o players on the roster with only half seeing regular game time (Iwase, Araki and Fujii). What we can however see here is a team that is going to be in major trouble in the mid to long-term. 

After the 2017 draft, senryokugai notices and retirements however we have a slightly healthier looking team age-wise. 

The team is getting a bit younger here with Morino retiring and players like Yagi given the flick. We can also see a decrease in the 26-30 range with a marked upswing in the 18-21 range with all 6 draftees being in that age range. The only major issue that really remains here is that we don't see a lot of outfielders or catchers under the age of 26. In the next 2 or 3 drafts the Dragons are going to have to go after college level outfielders as there's no one to really take over. The catcher position will also need to be reinforced if players like Takuma Kato, Shota Sugiyama and Iori Katsura can't step up to the plate. 

Now that we have a bit of an idea of where the Dragons are and where they're going, I'd like to propose a bit of an imagining of what the team might look like as challengers in 2023 with a much younger line-up.

It's always hard to predict what a team is going to look like in 5 years, but this is what I'm proposing. I've done a little bit of projecting, a little bit of theorizing and have come up with the kind of team that the Dragons should at least aim for using information based on up and coming players at university and high school now that will be useful down the track should we end up drafting them. 

For the time being, ignore the relievers. These could quite easily change over time and players like Sato and Maruyama may not get anywhere near being that reliable, but I'm going to say that they will be. I've also taken a lot of creative license with future draftees that may or may not be realistic. These are indicated in bold purple. 

First of all, the outfield. Kosuke Ito is a 2017 draftee and looks to be the only real heir apparent for the spot in centre-field after Oshima trends downward. He's still got a long way to go to fulfill that promise, but he seems like the type that could make it. I've gone with Masami Ishigaki in left-field because there's been a lot of talk about him being played in outfield. He wants to play short, and their might be a future for him in the infield, but I feel that given his speed and mobility, he'd be well suited to an outfield role. 
There is currently no one with the team that could fill Ryosuke Hirata's boots long-term. Yusuke Matsui and Atsushi Fujii are the wrong side of 30 and Masataka Iryo won't be much younger than Hirata when 2023 comes around. I've gone with current Tokai Uni Sagami High School slugger, Shota Morita. He'll be starting his 3rd and final year of high school next year and has slugged 37 homers in his high school career thus far. He'll be eligible in the 2018 draft should he choose to make himself available. Chunichi scouts are already looking at him and Morita's drafting would continue a long history of Sagami HS players coming to Nagoya. 

I'm banking on Shuhei Takahashi to come good under Morino's tutelage and secure his spot at third base. I'm also suggesting that Wataru Takamatsu's development will go well and his athleticism at short-stop will eventually see Yota Kyoda moved to second base. At first-base I've gone with another possible future draft pick Kota Marumo who is currently with Senshu University. Marumo is in his first year so he won't be available to be drafted until 2020. Still a long way to go for him, but he's shown power at high school and is a big lad standing at 184cm tall and 95kg. He has good bat speed which has been clocked at 149km/h (92.5mp/h) which could be promising going forward. There's every chance this hole at first get filled by a foreign slugger, but for the sake of argument, I'm going with an all Japanese roster. 

This was an interesting one to consider. I've decided here that none of Chunichi's catchers are going to work out. There is however an interesting local option that could be the man to turn to when he's available and that's Chubu Gakuin University's Kazuma Kubo. He has a reputation for a power bat and a strong arm and has the added bonus of going to a university in the Chunichi catchment. In high school at the 2015 Wakayama prefectural tournament Kubo had a .417 average over 3 games which included a 2-run homer as well as 6 RBIs. He seems to have a lot about him and would be available at the 2019 draft. 


There is always room for strengthening, but the starting rotation I have picked is essentially what we already have plus one. Shinnosuke Ogasawara and Yuya Yanagi have the potential to be a domineering top 2 while I expect Sho Ishikawa to develop to be the number 3. Rounding out the rotation is Shotaro Kasahara, Shota Suzuki and another guy I'm really high on, Ryoji Kuribayashi.

 As you can probably already tell, Kurabayashi has already played for the university level Japanese national team and he's also playing at Meijo University which is, among others, outfield Hiroki Kondo's alma mater. Kuribayashi is also an Aichi native which only increases his value. He's a right hander that throws 153km/h (95 m/ph) and had a K/9 ratio of 10.02 this Fall. He also became the first Aichi League pitcher since 2004 to mark a no-hitter taking 9Ks and giving up 5 walks against Chukyo University. While his walk-rate is a bit high, Kuribayashi will surely be a top 2 pick at the 2018 draft. Once again, Chunichi scouts are already well on top him with head scout Muneo Tanaka commenting that he was a little disappointed that Kuribayashi couldn't beat batter with his fast-ball when gunned down the middle of the zone but was otherwise impressed by his breaking balls and velocity.

Relief is something I haven't thought a lot about, but my thoughts are that Tatsuya Shimizu will be there abouts and I've otherwise smattered through a few talents that won't be too old by the time 2023 comes about to fill-out the bench a bit. I expect Hiroshi Suzuki to be the full-time closer by then. 

This was a fun little exercise for me, but what should be taken away is that there is a lot that needs to be filled in before this team looks like a force to be reckoned with. Foreign players will likely fill holes as Japanese players develop to fill them but I think you can understand that from the future selections I've made there's a few areas that need to be addressed: outfield, first base and catcher. There is really no one here coming up that is filling anyone with confidence. I also believe there's room for at least one more starter in Ryuji Kuribayashi but as long as the starters stay relatively consistent, the rotation should be pretty imposing for years to come. 

For some concluding remarks, in the short-term, we're still not looking very good. I forsee another season of missing out on the play-offs while we wait for younger talent to come good and the older guys to burn out. The next two years are going to be a big test for those guys who are entering the 26-30 age mark. If they can't start putting some pressure on the incumbents with any consistency, they will find themselves out of a job very quickly to younger players coming through the system.

There are still major question marks over whether or not this team has the structure and the staff to develop the kind of talent that is required for the modern game, but we can only hope. Let's see what the future brings. Doraho-!