Now, Lopez’s job is to find current Triple-A players who look capable of clicking the same way. He sees every Independent League team at least twice over the course of a season. He completes his first circuit before July, attempting to see everyone in case the BayStars need midseason reinforcements. In the second half, he starts cherry-picking players at the positions that he, Kakazu, Yates, and GM Shigeru Takada expect to have to fill the following season. Eventually, Lopez becomes a quasi stalker, shadowing the player or players he thinks would be the best fit. “It gets tricky because they get called up or they get sent down,” Lopez says. “I’ll fly to a city and go to the park and, next thing you know, he’s been sent down or called up. So you’ve got to follow him, but that’s part of the scouting gig.” Trips to Japan are also on the itinerary, always during spring training and often during organizational meetings at the end of the year.
Lopez is primarily looking for pitchers, outfielders, and corner infielders. Catchers are problematic because of the language barrier; middle infielders are less desirable because they lack power. As Lopez puts it, “If you’re going to bring a foreigner over, why not bring someone who can hit home runs?” The sweet spot for pitching is “a guy that has good command and spots the ball, [and] can throw 90-92.” Lopez would love to sign someone with nastier stuff, but he knows he’s shopping at the outlet store, where every item has a flaw. “If we go any [faster],” he says, “they’re probably in the big leagues anyway.”
The BayStars use statistics to supplement their scouts’ reports. “For us, the most important factor in evaluating players is scouting reports by [Lopez and Yates], whose opinions we trust most,” Kakazu says. “With that said, we do take stats into consideration. We have analyzed the past performances of recent foreign players and how their Triple-A and MLB stats correlate to their NPB stats, so that we can predict how our candidates might do if they come to Japan.”....
ESPN analyst Dan Szymborski offered a theory via email. “The players from the US that translate the best over there are kind of the opposite ones to the NPB guys who do well here,” writes Szymborski, who created the ZiPS projection system, which translates stats between leagues to forecast the performance of foreign players. “The ‘three true outcomes’ guys fare the best — take any fourth/fifth outfielder type that’s a fringe major leaguer with good power and they have a reasonable shot at success there. Brad Eldred, Wladimir Balentien, Wily Mo Pena aren’t surprising success stories over there. My hypothesis is that a baseball culture that still has a bias against strikeouts and for putting the ball in play/pitching to contact is a good fit for guys like that, that are fairly easy outs when you go right at them.”
The New York Yankees’ hoarding of a foreign candy started in spring training. One minute there would be boxes of the colorful sweets in the Tampa clubhouse; the next, they would be gone.
Since then, the epidemic has grown. The candy is now showing up in the clubhouse at Yankee Stadium and on the road, most recently at Wrigley Field. The candy is called Hi-Chew. “It is kind of a mix between bubble gum and a Starburst,” said David Phelps, who might pop one or two before his start against the White Sox on Thursday night.
Hiroki Kuroda is the Walter White of the Hi-Chew Yankees. Kuroda, who is not a paid endorser of Hi-Chew, was asked by the Japanese company to distribute the high-calorie, fruity sweets to his teammates. From there, the addiction has taken hold.
. . .
There is debate about who is the most addicted. Kuroda said it was CC Sabathia. Others think it is the relievers like Shawn Kelley, but it has slowly grasped the whole team. “I can’t say that I haven’t had any,” Joe Girardi said.
Utility man Kelly Johnson held out for a while, but even he now has succumbed. “I was probably one of the last ones to try it,” Johnson said. “It was probably like two weeks ago that I tried my first one. The next three days, I probably ate about 50 of them, but I wouldn’t put myself in the addicted category.”
Will there be sufficient supplies to last the first-place Yankees the entire season?
A set of recommendations to lift growth in Japan’s economy drafted by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s party seen by Reuters calls for slashing corporate taxes, reforming public pensions, and—in a curve ball—increasing the number of professional baseball teams to 16 from 12.
“Prosperous baseball teams could strengthen attachment to regional cities and help local economies thrive,” said the report, which cited the success of U.S. Major League Baseball in nearly doubling from 16 teams to 30 since the 1960s.
A couple of short stories about Asian pitchers and Irabu: I was announcing Yankee games in the mid-90s when I said over the air, “I wonder if we’ll ever see an Oriental position player in the Major Leagues?” Dion James was playing for the Yankees at the time, and told me about an exciting 19-year old named Ichiro Suzuki who had a chance to be the first. We all know that story. Big fan of Bernie Williams from watching Yankee games in Japan. Wears number 51 because of that.
So, I get a letter about a week later from an Asian baseball fan. Not a malicious letter but scolding me gently for referring to Asian players as “Oriental.” He said, “Noodles and rugs are Oriental, not people. We are Asians.” Fortunately for me, he put his phone number in the letter, so I called him.
We had a pleasant conversation and I told him I certainly didn’t intentionally say “Oriental’ as a slur or condescending remark. It was said innocently out of ignorance. He understood. I asked him if he would be watching the next game we televised. He said he would. He was a huge baseball fan and was complimentary of our telecasts on the MSG Network. I asked if he would please watch and listen in the top of the 4th inning. He said he would. I took the opportunity to clear up the Oriental/Asian situation.
...So, I’lll be keeping a close eye on Yu Darvish and see if he is finally the one to be able to challenge and dominate our bigger, more powerful big league hitters. For his and the Rangers’ sake, I hope he does. It will be good for the game and the Rangers profit and loss statement!
This “slugger” hit four home runs and slugged .360 in 643 PAs. In Japan.
The Milwaukee Brewers have signed three-time year contract with a club option for 2014.
The Brewers won the negotiating rights to Aoki on December 19.
The 30-year-old Aoki has played his entire eight-year professional career with the Tokyo Yakult Swallows, batting .329 with 84 HR, 385 RBI and 164 stolen bases in 985 games.
The Central League batting champion in 2005 (.344), 2007 (.346) and 2010 (.358), Aoki won the CL Rookie of the Year award in 2005. He is also a six- time Golden Glove Award winner.
The Athletics and Seattle Mariners open the regular season with a two-game series at Tokyo Dome on March 28-29. Many hoped the series would feature a showdown between Matsui and countryman Ichiro Suzuki, but Melvin said the A’s likely wont be re-signing the 37-year-old free agent Matsui.
“Matsui was a great fit for us last year and we all loved having him on our team,’’ Melvin said at a press conference on Monday to promote the series. “But this year it doesn’t look like a fit for us based on the personnel we have going forward.’‘
...Suzuki also had a down season in 2011. For the first time in his career, He failed to reach 200 hits - finishing with 184 - and hit a career-worst .272. Other numbers were lower too, including on-base percentage, infield hits and home runs, while he struck out a career-high 69 times.
Former Seattle star Ken Griffey Jr., who now serves as a special consultant to the Mariners, said he expects Suzuki to bounce back this season.
“Ichiro is going to be fine, you can ask these two guys (Melvin, Wedge) if a guy had 184 hits they wouldn’t be complaining,’’ Griffey said. “But you are looking at a guy who is a special athlete. He had one hiccup in his career and come this time next year we won’t even be talking about this. He is going to come into this season determined and with a little fire.’‘
Hiccup?...That was a freakin’ Dave McNally tally if ever!
The Yankees announced on Thursday that they were unable to sign infielder Hiroyuki Nakajima, who will instead continue to play for the Seibu Lions of Japan’s Pacific League.
“We unfortunately could not come to an agreement with Hiroyuki,” Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said in a statement. “We wish him the best of luck during the upcoming 2012 season.”
The Yankees acquired the rights to negotiate with the 29-year-old Nakajima through the posting process on Dec. 7, offering a reported $2.5 million bid that gave them 30 days to speak freely with Seibu’s shortstop and team captain.
The Texas Rangers won the rights to negotiate with star Japanese right-hander Yu Darvish by placing a record $51.7 million bid in a posting auction, sources told Yahoo! Sports.
Darvish’s team in Japan, the Nippon Ham Fighters, will accept the bid, which means the Rangers have 30 days to negotiate a contract with Darvish. If they cannot work out a deal, Darvish would return to Japan for the 2012 season and the Rangers would be refunded the posting fee.
The identity of the team that won the right to negotiate with Yu Darvish has yet to be revealed, but it was not the Nationals. Washington did not submit a posting bid, according to multiple people with knowledge of the situation, opting to stay on the sideline of a sweepstakes that will cost whomever lands the Japanese superstar upward of $100?million.
By the way, there’s another wonderful WaPo headline for Andy. Time to go back to grammar school.
Hardly seems fair that large market teams like the Brewers can just replace their MVP left-fielder with a three-time batting champ.
The Brewers reportedly submitted a winning $2.5 million bid to negotiate with Japanese outfielder Norichika Aoki, a three-time Central League batting champion with the Yakult Swallows.
According to a tweet by Yasuko Yanagita of Hochi Shimbun, the Swallows announced that they accepted the Brewers’ bid for Aoki. The Brewers now have negotiating rights for Aoki for the next 30 days….
The 5-foot-10, 170-pound left-handed hitter slipped to a .292 average and four homers in 2011, after going for career highs of a .358 average and 209 hits in 2010. He was the 2005 Central League Rookie of the Year, batting .344 in his first full season.
Aoki will turn 30 on Jan. 5, and could join a Brewers outfield that includes Ryan Bruan, Corey Hart, Nyjer Morgan and Carlos Gomez.
This news is actually a couple of weeks old, but I’m posting it mainly because I thought people might be interested to know that a set-up man, Chunichi Dragons reliever Takuya Asao, won the MVP Award in Japan’s Central League. After the controversy about Verlander’s MVP win, and some writers questioning whether pitchers should be eligible for the MVP at all, it’s interesting to look overseas and see not a starting pitcher, not a closer, but a set-up man walk away with the hardware…
“I can’t believe it,” Asao said at a news conference.
Asao played a vital role out of the bullpen for the pennant-winning Dragons, making 79 appearances and recording 45 holds. He finished the season with 10 saves, 100 strikeouts, a 0.41 ERA and didn’t allow a single home run in 87? innings on the mound.
“I was determined to do my best the entire year,” Asao said. “I didn’t believe I would ever be named MVP. I’m really surprised.”
The deadline for bids on Darvish is today at 5 pm (eastern time). Passan makes the whole process sound like executives have spent several years in Australia bulding up an immunity to iocane powder just for this moment.
The Texas Rangers, for example, have told rivals they’re cash-poor this offseason. A TV deal that will net them $80 million annually doesn’t kick in until 2015. The purchase price of the team for the ownership group – jacked up in an auction by Mark Cuban – wound up tens of millions of dollars higher than expected and sucked up the $90 million signing bonus Fox Sports delivered. And the TV contract itself wasn’t nearly as lucrative as Chuck Greenberg, the club’s deposed CEO, purported it to be.
To which one GM said: “Yeah, right.”
And another executive said: “They’re sandbagging.”
I once had a fleshy Conlinesque druncle who’d freak out whenever I’d flick juice-less, hence disposable, boogers his way at the dinner table. Strange man.
When I’m King of the World . . .
Manager Mike Scioscia likes to run. He has a lineup filled with rabbits, including Erick Aybar and two of the game’s fastest players in outfielders Peter Bourjos and Millville’s Mike Trout, 19.
With that kind of speed in front of him, if Trout is ready to lead off or bat No. 2, Pujols might drive in 150 runs.
Ah, but what has the Pujols signing done for a Rollins re-signing that seemed close to dotted-line time until the Angels surfaced as the “Mystery Team” that had been lurking in the shadows while the Cardinals and Marlins tried to wrap him up? No doubt it will get him a fourth year and a better price from the Phillies. Or, horror of horrors, the Cardinals, who just saved themselves $250 million, go all in and decide to upgrade their shortstop situation with the best infielder out there? Could happen. Be very afraid.
When I’m King of the World . . .
Phils will dive into the deep end of the International talent pool just to see what it’s like . . .I’m talking a big, expensive, defecting Cuban five-tooler like Yoenis Cespedes, who is said to be the centerfield equivalent of 106 mph power arm Aroldis Chapman. They say the 26-year-old has the opposite-field power of Vlad Guerrero and the size and running speed of No. 1 prospect Trout. And all he wants is $30 million, a bargain considering you don’t have to pay a “posting” bounty to Fidel Castro, the way suitors for Japanese phenom Yu Darvish must pay the Nippon Ham Fighters just for the right to negotiate with their gas-pumping righthander.
CHICAGO, Ill., Dec. 7—“It is impossible just now to say what effect the war will have on baseball,” said William E. Benswanger, president of the Pirates. “I do not know any more about it than the other fellow, but one thing is very certain at this time: We must keep our heads cool and keep our feet on the ground.”
The Pittsburgh executive had a radio installed in his suite…it was his intention to hear a concert on the air this afternoon, but shortly after tuning in the news of a naval engagement was flashed and Bill spent the remainder of the day listening to reports of hostilities at sea.
Bummer. The guy just wanted to hear some tunes, man.
Japanese baseball owners on Thursday said they want Japan to participate in the 2013 World Baseball Classic.
“We’ve been having peaceful and cooperative talks with WBC organizers. For Nippon Professional Baseball, we want Japan to take part,” said Rakuten Eagles owner Toru Shimada.
Shimada headed a negotiating team representing Japan’s 12 pro club owners, who were seeking a bigger share of the profits from the WBC, during talks in October with Major League Baseball, the tournament’s organizer.
But wouldn’t someone named Kawasaki want to play for the Swallows? And wear number 61?
Last night, Japanese shortstop Munenori Kawasaki of the champion Softbank Hawks announced at a press conference that he was becoming a free agent. Then, in an interesting twist, he told Japanese media that he wants to play in the major leagues, but only for the Mariners so he could team with Ichiro.
Not everyday the Mariners are flat out handed a free agent with zero competition. Especially one from Japan who won’t require a posting fee.
Samsung Lions pitcher Jang Won-Sam yielded only one run in the final game of the 2011 Asia Series baseball tournament Tuesday as his team beat Fukuoka Softbank Hawks 5-3.
The right-handed starter allowed five hits to the Hawk batters and struck out three others before he was replaced in the seventh inning during a playoff attracting more than 4,000 fans in the Taiwanese city of Taichung.
The UEFA Champions League it isn’t, but it still is, to the best of my knowledge, the highest-quality league of baseball champions outside of the Caribbean World Series (and even then, it probably is higher quality than the Carib WS, since so few MLBers go there anymore).
How much Darvish could get in a contract with a major league team would be of interest to everyone involved if he is soon to be divorced.
That Darvish, 25, and his actress wife Saeko, 27, are involved in divorce proceedings has been no secret in Japan for about a month and has been a hotter topic in the entertainment industry press than on the sports pages. Married on Nov. 11, 2007 (Darvish wears No. 11), they have two children.
Saeko, when asked about the divorce at an event promoting a book project last week, told reporters, “Well, hmm, there is still a ways to go.”
Asked if she expected a resolution by the end of the year, Saeko said, “I do not know the answer to that either.”
Obviously, it would be in Saeko’s best interest to reach a settlement after Darvish’s name is on a new multi-year contract worth more than the roughly $4.2 million he made last season.
Darvish is coming off an 18-6 season and has a 1.99 career earned run average over his seven seasons with the Fighters, but this year’s 1.44 ERA was a career-best. He allowed 156 hits in 232 innings this year, striking out 276 and walking 36.
Oh my gosh, oh my gosh! Of all the dramatic things I’ve ever seen! Satoken19770127 standing right in an Upper Deck trading card box announcing he is back-flipping!
In this random video on YouTube, a baseball fan from Tokyo, Japan named Ken gushes over an Upper Deck trading card that holds the signatures of both Bryce Harper and Stephen Strasburg. He apparently got the card in a pack which is a pretty lucky find.
Under the username ‘Satoken19770127,’ Ken shows off the card while describing how excited he is to have it. He starts to get really, really excited at about the 1:30 mark.
Kazuki Yoshimi won his much-anticipated matchup against Tsuyoshi Wada, Kazuhiro Wada had a two-run triple and the Chunichi Dragons held off the Softbank Hawks in a 2-1 victory to even the best-of-seven Japan Series at three games apiece on Saturday.
The Hawks were just one win away from clinching their first championship title in eight years, but the Dragons dug deep in their energy reserves to force a Game 7 on Sunday night at Yahoo Dome.
“Tomorrow will be the last game of 2011. I had a feeling that the series would go this way. It’s not like I have supernatural powers, but I can tell that my players have a relaxed mindset,” said outgoing manager Hiromitsu Ochiai. “I think that Yoshimi probably was more relaxed in this outing than in his previous start here (in Game 2).”
Just before his dismissal as representative and general manager of the Yomiuri Giants, Hidetoshi Kiyotake spoke to the Mainichi at the team’s Tokyo office, saying he hoped his dispute with Yomiuri Shimbun Group Chairman Tsuneo Watanabe would be seen as not just about pro baseball, “but about all sports, and what a general manager is meant to be.”
When he was appointed Giants representative in 2004, the club was being run “like a small business, relying on subjective views and instinct,” Kiyotake says. He took a hard look at the management style and decided to implement a more objective, statistics-based system for baseball decisions inspired partly by the New York Yankees front office, among other teams.
“I can’t say everything I did was right, but it does make a good foundation for further discussion,” he said, adding that he based changes to the team’s composition, the draft and a host of other management decisions on his stats-based system.
...When asked who pro baseball belongs to, Kiyotake replied, “It belongs to the teams, it belongs to the players, and it belongs to the fans. It is definitely not owned only by the teams’ parent companies.”