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Friday, October 30, 2020

End of Year Cleanout & Draftees: Let none of them be missed, I've got them on the list.

"Of society offenders who might well be underground
And who never would be missed — who never would be missed!
There's the pestilential nuisances who write for autographs —
All people who have crappy ERAs and irritating hats —
All catchers who are paid too much, and break your salary floor like that —
All pitchers who in throwing strikes, throw strikes like a blind cat —
And all aging veterans who on spoiling winning games insist —
They'd none of 'em be missed — they'd none of 'em be missed!"

I am still working on my draft report. As it's a lot of research it may take another week, but I'm doing my best. For the time being before we discuss what needs to change, here's a brief summary of who we got in the draft to help inform what I'm saying in this post:

PickNamePositionAlma Mater
1Hiroto TakahashiRHPChukyo University HS
2Hiroto MoriRHPNihon Sports Science Uni
3Ryūku TsuchidaIFŌmi HS
4Shōta FukushimaLHPKurashiki Commercial HS
5Tsubasa KatōRHPRikkyo Uni Kani HS
6Hironori MiyoshiOFJFE West Japan
 Development Draft  
1Ren KondōLHPSapporo Gakuin Uni
2Kōtarō UedaLHPKyōei HS
3Yūki MatsukiharaRHPSeika HS

The Dragons went pitcher heavy as they almost always do. The outfield hasn't been addressed again but perhaps they're happy with their in house options. Yuki Okabayashi appears to be heir apparent in centre-field, while there are a few options that are being tested in right field.  The jewels of the take are the two right handers at the top. Takahashi probably has the tallest ceiling while Mori will most likely have the highest floor of this group. Both could make contributions next year. 6/9 players come straight out of high school which is consistent with what the Dragons have done in recent drafts. It will be interesting to see how everyone develops but it looks like another good class. I'll get into each player in more detail later on in my annual report post.

With that, it's time to address the herd of elephants in the room. The Dragons have a lot of dead weight on the books and it's time to move some of the drift wood onto the fire. There's a lot of money tied up in veterans that aren't producing anything tangible. Here, I put forward some names that I think are going to leave or at least perhaps should. If you're earning over $100k, are older than 26 and haven't done anything for the last 2 years, you're making the list:

Player NameAgePositionReason2020 Wage
Daisuke Yamai42RHPOlder, hasn't pitched in 1-gun$440k
Kazuki Yoshimi36RHPOlder, hasn't pitched well in 1-gun$860k
Luis Gonzalez28LHPNot as good as hoped$480k
Junki Ito29RHPHasn't progressed$105k
Ryosuke Oguma30RHPHasn't progressed; getting older$100k
Enny Romero29LHPInjured$550k
Akito Okura26RHPDeadline to be signed passed$29k
Tomohiro Hamada28LHPDeadline to be signed passed$53k
Sandy Brito24RHPHasn't progressed$49k
Shota Ono33COlder, hasn't been in 1-gun picture$960k
Atsushi Fujii39OFOlder, unlikely to get more opportunities$400k

Firstly, the nice way to go, retiring. Whilst Daisuke Yamai has indicated a willingness to keep playing, surely it is time to say goodbye? The value of a veteran presence I think cannot be understated. Yamai has won multiple pennants, pitched a no-hitter, lead the league in wins and pitched the series deciding joint perfect game in the 2007 Japan Series. That all being said, I don't want him taking innings away from young pitchers anymore. The same can be said for Kazuki Yoshimi, who you could probably argue has an even better pedigree. Yoshimi had an okay bounce back year from surgery in 2016, but hasn't been on his game since then. If I had to make a choice, I'd prefer to keep Yoshimi around as he truly was an ace caliber pitcher in his day that could pass on some great technical knowledge to younger players. Yamai's peak in comparison wasn't quite as dominant.

Atsushi Fujii and Shota Ono are the next likely candidates for retirement. Ono may well still have the legs to be a 3-4th catcher in an NPB organisation, but I think he's done with the Dragons. Another that has Japan Series and pennant winning experience, he's a hard one to turf, but given Kota Ishibashi and Yuya Gunji need as many reps as can be given, I think Ono needs to move on. His salary is going to be a stumbling block too. He's finishing his 3-year deal in 2020, but with a maximum 25% slash allowed, he's still probably going to command close to $700,000 next year. Fujii had his roles over the years and while an excellent servant, I wouldn't be surprised to hear that he has retired at the season's end. Given the Dragons are well in the hunt for 2nd place at the moment, it's likely any retirement announcements have been delayed until the end if the year.

Of the others, Akito Okura and Tomohiro Hamada are in a precarious position where they have both been on development contract deals for 3 years now. Unless either are offered a fully rostered deal by the 30th of October, both will automatically become free agents. The players are then able to talk to other teams or simply re-sign with the Dragons under the same conditions. It's not unheard of for the symphony to continue with the record currently being 8 years as a development player held by a pitcher with the Giants. Personally, I think it would be a shame to lose either, but it's very possible the Dragons know that they're happy to sign-up to a new development deal at the end of their contract.

Fully rostered players that are perhaps most threatened by the draft selections (apart from the retirees) are likely to be Ryosuke Oguma and Junki Ito. Oguma and Ito had their time as starter-relievers around 2015-2018 but neither has been really seen or heard from in the last 12 to 18 months.  Hiroto Takahashi, Hiroto Mori and Tsubasa Kato's additions mean that space is going to need to be cleared and I think Ito and Oguma are probably the most likely to be shown the door.

The only other area is the international signings. Both are taking up a bit of dosh, but would the Dragons ditch either of them given the state of the minor leagues in the US and the limited Dominican Winter League? It may be safe to bring back Luis Gonzalez on a similar deal and try to get Enny Romero back on a slightly reduced deal. We'll have to wait and see. It's possible the addition of Shota Fukushima might have eliminated the need to bring back Gonzalez. Still, there may well be some guys out there the Dragons can coax into coming over. 
Fuku-bae come back!

Lastly, I'd just like to float some ideas for a signing. Not all clubs have done their senryokugai notices obviously, but I'd love to see a homecoming deal for Kosuke Fukudome who has reportedly been put on the chopping block by the Tigers. While the last thing we probably need is a 43 year old outfielder, I'd really like to have his leadership in the clubhouse. Not only that, I'd give him 1-year deal with a pathway to becoming the team's farm manager or hitting coach in 2022. If that's a pathway Fukudome is interested in, I'd gladly bring him in. He was more or less a 5-tool player in his heyday, and I'd love to have that kind of player around to influence the younger guys in this group. This kind of deal would not be unprecedented. Michihiro Ogasawara originally came to the club as a back-up corner infielder and went on to become farm manager. I say, if Fukudome is interested, you bring him in. He'd also add a left-handed veteran that could help with coaching as the organisation currently lacks a left-handed batting coach. The only minor problem might be, given his age and stature, an upset of hierarchy among senior players.

Well, what do you all think? Hopefully the team will see added renewal this year. Yoda has been confirmed to be serving out his 3-year contract, so he'll be able to further build on his legacy. We're still about a month away from really seeing the shape of the team for 2021. The Dragons are still in the hunt for an A-Class finish, so fingers crossed they can build on that next year.

EDIT (3/11/2020): Kazuki Yoshimi has now confirmed he will be retiring at the season's end. Furthermore, it has been announced that Junki Ito, Ryosuke Oguma, Takuma Achira, Shun Ishikawa, Shota Suzuki, Tomohiro Hamada and Akito Okura have received senryokugai notices meaning they won't be staying with the club in 2020. Shota Ono, Daisuke Yamai and Atsushi Fujii look like they'll survive another year.

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