Thursday, December 22, 2016

November & December Updates: Draftees signed, contracts updated, new foreign addition, new uniforms!

Well, it's time for my monthly (er 2-monthly?) update. I didn't really plan on it being this infrequent but that's just what has happened.

Firstly, bit of personal news, I'll be moving back to Australia in January to start a new job but that won't affect my ability to report on the Dragons. The internet is a powerful thing. Just means I won't be able to go to too many games. Time difference is only an hour, so not to worry, I'll be updating at much the same rate and time as always.

As for the Dragons in November, it has been an exciting month with the front office moving every which way to secure players to contracts and scout out new possible additions.

First of all, contracts for existing players. Lots of ups and downs this year but the biggest movers were of course Hirata and Oshima while Shinji Tajima also got a fairly nice bump on his contract.
The biggest movers going the other way however were Tatsuro Hamada, Tomohiro Hamada and Masashi Yamamoto who got kicked off the first team roster to be moved to trainee contracts. All of them are possibly a little lucky to have that much to hold on to. The Hamadas were both #2 picks in their respective draft years and their fall from grace is a damning statement on their development. To end the summary on a slight happier note however, two trainee players have been upgraded to first team roster status with pitchers Junki Kishimoto and Takuya Mitsuma getting upgraded deals for the 2017 season. The two pitchers have impressed on the farm with Mitsuma in particular turning heads as a closer and starter. A big congratulations to both.

All of our draftees have signed pre-contract deals to confirm them as Dragons for 2017. The front office did there work in reverse order with Yusuke Kinoshita being the first to be approached while Yuya Yanagi, after starring a in Meiji University's win at the Meiji Jingu tournament, was the last of the 7 players selected at the 2016 Draft in October to sign on officially. .

After the large exodus of foreign players from the team, Mori went on a scouting trip to Cuba and the Dominican Republic largely in search of a hitter that could play outfield and infield positions and a closing pitcher. While Mori didn't have much luck finding someone to close out games, he did find his hitter. Former LA Dodger, Alex Guerrero has been signed on a one year $1.2 million deal to fill in a gap at left field and third base. I expect him to be out everyday left-fielder while he fills in for Shuhei at 3rd when needed. I have heard nothing bad bad reviews on his defense, but his bat seems to pack a fair bit of pop which is honestly better than I was expecting. Very impressed with the signing and he should provide more home runs in a team that is honestly fairly barren when it comes to clearing fences. (Only Hirata, Viciedo and Fukuda hit more than 10 homers during 2016)

Otherwise, Dayan Viciedo and Raul Valdes have both signed renewals to play in Nagoya next season.

In other areas of team strengthening, plot string regarding interest in DeNA's right arm starter, Shun Yamaguchi. The former closer put up 11 wins this year for the 'Stars in their first play off run in a donkey's age and decided to take advantage of his free agency rights. The 29 year old is said to have a very good relationship with Takuya Asao and pitching coach Denny Tomori whom he worked with at Yokohama. The Giants also placed interest in Yamaguchi and  reportedly tabled a 3 year ¥600M offer. Not to be beaten however, the Dragons have reportedly slapped in a 5 year ¥1B offer to top their Eastern rivals. This would be just about the most money we've spent on a free agent since Kazuhiro Wada in 2008 (It might well be the only free agent signing we've had since Wada). The President has said he was unhappy with the arms that Chunichi had, so maybe this is a sign of intent by opening up the chequebook. However like many things ins life, this was not meant to be as Yamaguchi signed up with the Giants to join their mini-FA brigade for the 2017 season (Giants have also tied up deals for Masahiko Morifuku and Dai-Kang Yang).

Something that had slipped under the radar is the departure of Jordan Norberto. He was listed as a player given free agency by the Dragons in late November. That officially leaves us the Cuban trio of Viciedo, Valdes and Guerrero for the coming season with the hope of adding a couple new arms in the MLB winter meetings.
Update 27/12/2016: The Dragons have begun negotiations to bring Norberto back to the team. Negotiations have also started with former Marlins and Phillies relieiver, Elvis Araujo.

The story regarding our search for pitching that I've heard from a very knowledgeable user on the NPB subreddit is that Mori and our Cuban scout couldn't find anything they were impressed with in the Dominican Republic or Cuba. Denny Tomori was sent to he winter meetings with a shortlist of players to investigate but so far former Cincinnati Reds reliever Ross Ohlendorf is the only name that has come up through the Japanese media. I have heard that the Dragons want to offer him a starting role but he is not too far up the list in terms of relievers sought after. The Giants are already reportedly in talks with him.

Other big news, well, fairly big anyway is that that Dragons will return to the old blue stylings of the 2004-2011 era. The new uniforms were put on show at the media presentation of the new draftees with each of the rookies the first to put on the new shirt. It isn't exactly the same as the Ochiai era uniforms, but it does carry some similar hallmarks. The logo on the shirt stays the same as with the 2016 uniforms with a bit more blue trim on the sleeves.
Apart from the uniforms, the new squad numbers have been decided for the draftees. Yuya Yanagi was given the coveted 17 which has been previously worn by hall of famer Michio Nishizawa among others while Yota Kyoda chose the 51 not because of Ichiro, but apparently because of wanting to be "godly" like Carp outfielder Seiya Suzuki. Otherwise, Masami Ishigaki recieved the 32 while Shotaro Kasahara recieved the number 47, Kento Fujishima the 54 and Taisuke Maruyama the 28. In other changes, Takuya Mitsuma will wear the 43 next season while Junki Kishimoto wears the 59. And finally, Yusuke Kinoshita was given the 201.  If you want to have a look at what the new team is looking like, I am continually updating this roster box on Wikipedia as we get new players in.
In the Asian Winter League in Taiwan where a number of our boys are playing, the Western League took out the pennant and the title. 2013 1st draft pick, Shota Suzuki in particular seemed to impress as he pitched 5 games going 3-1 with a 2.37 ERA and 1.05 WHIP. Some of his stuff looked absolutely nasty as well. Hopefully we'll be seeing more of him in Spring Training.
Otherwise Hiroki Kondo and Hayato Mizowaki played in the majority of the games with Kondo hitting this nice dinger.
Ryota Ishioka also played well for his time with team while other young Dragons also made positive impacts.

Furthermore, this is getting long because of time I have to cover, but Hiromitsu Ochiai will leave his position as general manager of the team in January after his contract is up. Owner Shirai says there is no bad blood between Ochiai and the team but there appears to be some dissatisfaction with Ochiai in the higher echelons. The team will continue to operate without a general manager as was the way before Ochiai moved into the role. It is a shame to see such a big face of the team leave, but the last 3 years of B-Class results coupled with a lot of draft picks that haven't worked out thus far, it was possibly for the best that Ochiai moved on.

And, for absolutely no reason at all, here is Shinnosuke Ogasawara with his best kamehameha impression.