Tsuyoshi Yoda is in the last year of his 3-year contract. Much speculation now has arisen as to who will become the next manager as the assumption is only one good season in the last three is a poor enough result for Yoda to be moved on. In normal circumstances this is probably true, however with parent company Chunichi Shimbun losing money during the pandemic through limited gate receipts and the general downturn in the newspaper business, it is very possible a cheaper option for next season will need to be considered.
Yoda and his backroom team have a lot to answer for after a poor third season in charge. Despite a relatively positive 2nd season in which the team finished 3rd, their highest finishing position in almost a decade, 2021 has been a disaster hallmarked by the team's poor production with the bat. One would think that Yoda is halfway out the door but there have been many positives to his reign. Yoda came onboard with the mission to improve the pitching staff. Under Shigekazu Mori, the pitching was erratic. There was a time where you would expect a reliever to give up a run in any inning. Under Yoda however the pitching has become a core strength. Yudai Ono had a Sawamura Award winning year in 2020 and if it weren't for the ridiculous season Yoshinobu Yamamoto is having for the Orix Buffaloes, Yuya Yanagi would be the front-runner for the award this year. Whatever is happening is working. Unlike Mori's Dragons however, the hitting has been woeful. In the 2018 season, the Dragons looked dangerous with the bat. Dayan Viciedo and Ryosuke Hirata had career-high seasons. The team otherwise just hit well. The same cannot be said for Yoda's Dragons. A mere look at the hitting statistics of our outfielders this year could have you spitting in disgust. Only two regular hitters have an OPS of over .700; Dayan Viciedo and Takuya Kinoshita. Just, awful. It was hoped that the additions of former MLB instructor, Alonzo Powell and former Carp slugger, Kenta Kurihara would help in this regards but so far the reading hasn't been positive.
So with all that in mind, who is there actually available to take over? Perhaps under normal circumstances, more than we know but the main names currently being discussed in the media are perennial contender Kazuyoshi Tatsunami, farm manager Toru Nimura and Yoda himself. Not much to get excited about. Tatsunami has been after the top job ever since Ochiai stepped down. Rumours are that his relationship with former owner Bungo Shirai meant that Tatsunami was frozen out of contention. However, with a new owner it is now said that that doors are ajar for a Tatsunami takeover. The third inheritor of the Mr Dragons moniker has been a vocal member of the media for some time now and even came on as a special instructor last spring to help with the Dragons hitters. Yota Kyoda and Akira Neo is particular were focuses of this instruction. However, what Tatsunami says in the media does not sound like those of a particularly competent manager particularly for the state the team is in. In a way, getting Tatsunami in, finally, and letting him have a go and succeed or fail would at least get the media off the Mr Dragons train finally. I am however not sold on his ability to be a good manager.
Toru Nimura would be, I think, a reluctant recepient of the top job. One positive can be said is that the farm team under his tenure started off very well with the bat. They unfortunately tapered off as time passed, but the promise was there to start with. I quite like what Nimura has said in the past about his players and his approach. He is definitely a manager with a plan for his players and as a farm manager he will know how to get the best out of younger players. However, it does appear that his recommendations to the top team come from very strict criteria on who is ready and who is not. It is possible that Nimura is partially responsible for the lack of youth in the top team as he hasn't judged them to be ready for the task. In a way this can be seen as protecting the players to ensure they work out their trade on the farm. I think for the most part this is probably a good idea, but one then worries if he would actually lead a youth revolution in the team.
I personally think we'll probably see another year of Yoda, probably at a reduced wage, to firstly save some dough, and also just to see what might happen. Most of Yoda's staff's contracts are up this year as well which could see some meaningful chopping and changing. It has been reported that Tsutomu Ito and Yoda have had a falling-out and that would mean at least a new head coach. A new batting and pitching coach on the farm are probably required as well with Ken Kadokura leaving the team midway through the year while Toshio Haru is the only hitting instructor on the farm. Takayuki Murakami, organisational hitting coach, is probably on the way out while there could be further shuffling as well. That gives me some optimism. The hitting philosophy that is trying to be introduced may well take time to stick as well, who knows what another year will bring.
So, I would assume that we'll see another year of Yoda. It's the most cost-effective for the team and I'm keen to see what another year might bring particulary with the team chasing some hitting talent really hard at the draft. It's also worth noting that Yoda was already chosen as the new manager before the 2018 draft where he pulled out Akira Neo's ticket. While the Olympics has delayed the season and any other end-of-season decisions (apart from senryokugai notices apparently), there has been talk that Yoda has sat in on scouting meetings and largely still has a say on team direction. I think this strengthens Yoda's chances of continuing. Somewhat serendipitously, the season running longer into the year than usual may be to Yoda's advantage as much of the preparation for the following season will need to be made now. Why not then give him another year?
With all that said and done however, I still want to do a little thought exercise. This would be for maybe, 2023. I am a big fan of what Hirokazu Ibata says. He speaks very intelligently about the game in a very nuanced way. He's a former all-star, Best 9, golden glove winner and was a key part of the Dragons for almost 15 years. He has great respect among the NPB community and I personally would love to see him get the nod to be Dragons manager at some point. With all that in mind, I spent a little bit of time thinking about what an Ibata led backroom could look like. I've tried to keep to coaches that Ibata has either played with or under throughout his career as well as some links to his alma mater, Asia University.
|Head Coach||Masahiro Kawai|
|Batting Coach||Kosuke Fukudome|
|Pitching Coach||Kenshin Kawakami|
|Battery Coach||Fumihiro Suzuki|
|IF Defense/Base-Running||Masahiro Araki|
|OF Defense/Base-Running||Norihiro Akahoshi|
|Batting Coach||Toshio Haru|
|Pitching Coach||Kazuki Yoshimi|
|Battery Coach||Eiichi Nakano|
|IF Defense/Base-Running||Tadaharu Sakai|