Thursday, December 07, 2006

NPB Roundup: Fighters, Tigers, and Carp, oh my!

(Hi. Yes, I know about the latest Winter Meeting fun, but I think the best way for me to ignore things like the Soriano-Ramirez trade and the Floyd-Garcia trade is to stop reading English language baseball sites, I think.)

I'm always impressed how the Japanese press can kick a guy when he's down if it makes a good front page photo. Kentaro Sekimoto went in for his contract negotiations with the Hanshin Tigers, and they basically treated him like crap, offering him 40 million yen (about $350k) next year, up from the 30 million (about $260k) he made this year -- after he basically came in and replaced Makoto Imaoka as their regular third baseman and hit well (.301/.382/.441) and played the field well (4 errors in 129 games); he always does seem to contribute when he gets a lot of regular playing time. The offer in itself might not be so weird, if not for two things: one, the Hanshin salary negotiators were apparently yawning and ignoring him while he was making his salary case to them, and two, they gave shortstop Takashi Toritani a raise to 70 million yen from 30 million. Toritani hit .289/.362/.431 AND made a bazillion (okay, 20) errors in the field (in 143 games). Sure, Toritani's a hype-o-riffic Waseda grad and all and a decent player, but Sekimoto's been with the team three times as long and works his ass off. In the wake of the Igawa posting windfall, and how close the team came this year to another pennant, I don't think it's that unreasonable for a lot of the key contributors to want to get paid a bit more, either.

Anyway, apparently, after the way the Hanshin negotiators were treating him, Sekimoto was actually so shocked he broke down crying. So of course all the press took photos of it and ran the story like it was front-page news on their websites with headlines like "Sekimoto in shock!" "Sekimoto was made to look like an idiot!" "Sekimoto crying over Hanshin officials yawning!" and so on.

I guess it shouldn't surprise me. The press loves this stuff (as another example, I can't even count how many times I saw the photos of Kazumi Saitoh being carried off the field crying after the Pacific League playoffs in various sports dailies/sites/magazines).

And of course, Dragonbutt got a raise to 65 million yen next year (from 36 million) for coming in and taking over for Kazuyoshi Tatsunami at third base for Chunichi. Funny coincidence, too: Sekimoto and Morino are a month apart in age and were drafted in the same round of the same draft (2nd round, 1996-1997 offseason). Oh yeah, and Morino hit .280/.321/.395 this year, too.

Okay, anyway. Speaking of Tigers pictures, I thought it was cool to see this one of Norihiro Akahoshi the other day, signing wheelchairs. For the last few years he's donated a wheelchair to charity for every base he steals, and speaks out for making Koshien more handicapped-accessible (good luck with that one, heh). Anyway, in his blog, he mentioned that he felt bad he only stole 35 bases this year, about half of the 60 he averaged over the previous three seasons.

I think the Red Sox are slightly confused on Hideki Okajima's player page, as they're listing him as having gone to college at Koshien. Someone might want to tell them that Koshien is a stadium, not an institution of higher learning, despite what 90% of the teenagers in Japan may tell you. Okajima didn't go to college, as the Giants drafted him from Higashiyama High School.

Eishin Soyogi, the Hiroshima Carp shortstop who was Central League ROY this year, got a raise in salary and a lowering in uniform number; he made 14 million yen this year and will make 32 million yen next year (yes, that's like a $150k->$280k raise), and will be wearing uniform number 6 (owned for the last ten years by the retiring first baseman Itsuki Asai) instead of number 32. He remarked that "It's an honor to wear number 6. [Chunichi shortstop Hirokazu] Ibata wears number 6, so I want to work hard to be better than him." Oh yeah, and Soyogi also wants to train to have an "Ichiro Body".

Speaking of changing numbers, Hochi sports reported that manager Hara has had to shuffle 20 Giants numbers. Thank god for sites like Seibango no Yakata for helping me sort out this sort of thing. They don't list 20 changes in this article, but they do list these:

Chen-ming Chiang: 97 -> 17
Hisanori Takahashi: 17 -> 21
Hiroshi Kisanuki: 21 -> 41
Masanori Hayashi: 30 -> 13
Takahiko Nomaguchi: 13 -> 33
Makoto Kosaka: 2 -> 6
Michihiro Ogasawara: Fighters -> 2

Hisanori Takahashi wants to wear #21 to be like Kazumi Takahashi, another lefty pitcher named Takahashi who was on the Giants on the infamous V squad. Kisanuki wants to be the "Tom Seaver of the Giants" wearing #41. Hayashi's #13 will make him be another lefty closer like Chunichi's Hitoki Iwase.

Former Giants ace pitcher Masumi Kuwata (#18) wanted to try to come play ball in America next year, but has found out that he won't be able to, due to visa limits for non-Americans permitted to play in the minor leagues. According to this article, though, permits for first-year minor leaguers fall under the same category as those issued to agricultural workers and other seasonal laborers. Isn't that scuppered up?

In the wake of former Bay Stars free agent pitcher Ken Kadokura deciding to sign with Yomiuri, suddenly the Terahara-Tamura trade the Bay Stars and Hawks did the other day looks a little better. It still seems to favor Softbank at a glance, but given that Kadokura was Yokohama's only 10-game winner, and he and Daisuke Miura were their only reasonable starting pitchers, it stands to reason that Terahara can't possibly be WORSE than the other options they have right now. As it is, Terahara seems pretty happy with the move, and with being in their rotation. He even went so far as to shave his facial hair. What is it with guys moving to the CL and shaving?

Man, the "Yuki Saito, Handkerchief Prince" craze is never going to die at this rate. Next year, NTV is going to broadcast Tokyo Big Six league games so the legions of swooning Saito fans can watch him on TV, even though he decided on college instead of the pro leagues. Apparently they wanted to just broadcast Waseda's games, but the league said they had to try to cover all six schools. Personally, I think I will continue to be a bigger fan of this Yuuki Saitoh instead. :)

Speaking of Waseda, I guess, look, it's Ken Miyamoto already being accosted by fans wanting autographs! (Why is he signing right-handed? Is he pulling a Zito?) But, hey, here's two shots of the Fighters' new kids on the dock on Nikkan Sports: in school uniform and in Fighters uniform. And here's a whole bunch more on the official Fighters' site. Using this picture we can see that the new class is highschoolers Dass Romash Tasuku (P #66), Yusuke Uemura (P #46), Mitsuo Yoshikawa (P #34), and college/industry draftees Yusuke Uchiyama (P #49), Takahiro Imanami (IF #45), Youhei Kaneko (OF #40), Kazunori Yamamoto (P #44), and Ken Miyamoto (P #17). As expected, Hisayoshi Chono went with his "I hate Nippon Ham" stance and didn't sign. I guess the most interesting uniform swaps here are Uemura taking Hichori Morimoto's old #46 and Kaneko taking Sanematsu/Okajima's old #40. I think I'd mentioned it, but Shinjo basically bestowed #1 on Hichori after retiring to help pass on the torch as being a crazy man. Or something.

The other good thing about this is that now we know that our tall Indian-Japanese draftee does indeed seem to spell his name "Dass", not "Darth" as it had been romanized several other places. This also inspired the press to talk about Dass's curry preferences and feature a small picture of him with his family.

Oh, the Swallows and Lions also have their new team member pictures up. (I should hunt for others, but I'm tired.)

This is decent fodder for the "Yu Darvish is soooooo girly" camp of folks, too.

So on one last note, to go full circle about contracts: Yukio Tanaka, who was team captain of the Fighters last year, took a 67% pay cut to play for a mere 20 million yen next year. It makes sense, since he's mostly a bench bat who's around for veteran leadership and because he has 1982 career hits and would really like to get to 2000. Kazuhiro Kiyohara, on the other hand, is going to get 250 million yen next year to hopefully be injury-free and bash some home runs and be a big name and a big bat (and not a big crybaby). He hit 11 homers this year for a career total of 525, good for fifth on the all-time Japan list. If he can hit another 11 next year, he'll tie Koji Yamamoto, but he'll have a ways to go to catch up to Hiromitsu Kadota (whose display I saw when I was at the NPB Hall of Fame three months ago, as he was just elected this year!) The only thing I wonder is: does he really pull in 2 million dollars worth of merchandise and attendance to the hapless Orix Buffaloes? They're really the only team I see as being truly hopeless next year, and I don't think an aging Kiyo-chan is going to help.

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