The Dragons have shed the roster along with most of their foreign players ahead of the 2018 season. Araujo, Rondon and Valdes were turfed early due to poor performance or optimistic contract expectations, while it has recently been revealed that Alex Guerrero will no be returning to the club after taking Central League homerun champions honours in 2017. Somewhat surprisingly as well, Jordan Norberto appears once again to have been released. The Dominican lefty was released from the club in 2016 only to be re-signed after few better options were found. This seems an unlikely course of action this time around as the Swallows are hovering to capture the former A's man.
That leaves only Dayan Viciedo whom was underwhelming in his second season aside from some hot streaks. He had his issues with injury and spent a month away from the team finalizing his US citizenship where he took a leave of absence. The club seems to like him however and I would be surprised if he weren't retained possibly at a slightly decreased rate than his initial signing of a two year $3.5M deal.
That brings us to speculation over who Mori and the scouting crew have found over in the US, DR and Cuba over the last month or so and who they've turned up in the FA market.
Through foreign recruiting three names have come up in the media. Former Baltimore Orioles slugger and 2013 American League homerun king, Pedro Alvarez is one but negotiations appear to have broken down.
|Former Yankee Almonte with Aichi native, Ichiro Suzuki.|
The second name mentioned from the get-go was Zoilo Almonte
, a Dominican switch-hitting outfielder who previously played for the New York Yankees in the MLB. Almonte has recently come off a year playing in the Mexican Baseball League with Sultanes de Monterrey. Almonte appears to be able to hit for average and power and has a very appealing stat line in Mexico. He was previously well lauded within the Yankees organisation but fell on hard times and bounced around the minors in Atlanta before heading to Mexico. Almonte has the ability to hit for power and average who looks like a significant upgrade on Fujii but maybe not quite as good an acquisition as Alex Guerrero. The 28 year-old hit 35 homers in two seasons for Monterrey at an average of .321 and a .897OPS. Almonte actually looks like a very handy little acquisition. I had a quick chat with former Dragons 1st baseman, Matt Clark about Almonte whom he has come up against in Mexico and it was his belief that Almonte should do pretty well in Japan. I certainly hope so and I'm quietly optimistic he will add plenty of danger to the line-up.
Almonte has 5 HR's in 141ABs for Aguilas in the Dominican Winter League this year at a passable .262 average with a .755OPS.
|Moya was a top prospect with the Detroit Tigers in 2014|
is a Puerto Rican outfielder from the Detroit Tigers organisation. As recently as 2014 he won the Tigers minor leaguer of the year award but somehow it's all fallen apart in recent years. Moya is said to moving to the Dragons on a one year contract. The former Tigers starlet stands at a staggering 2 meters tall which would make him one of top 3 tallest players in NPB alongside Fighters closer Chris Martin and Baystars starter Phil Klein. Moya's profile seems to be one of a frustrated power hitter who seems to strike out a lot. His stats in MLB with the Tigers aren't the worst with a .250 average 5HR and 11RBIs in 422 PAs but his 2017 season in AAA and later AA sealed his fate as a failed prospect in Detroit. He has been playing in the Dominican Winter League in the off-season which is where Mori and his team likely ran into him. He hasn't been all that good in Winter League play either as he's currently averaging .203 with .619OPS with Toros del Este.
Moya is an outfielder, which if we add Almonte to the mix means we have a fairly busy looking set of positions. Almonte seems like a lock for left, while Moya, a right-fielder by trade, is likely to compete with Ryosuke Hirata for a shot. I don't know what the contract numbers are, but I can't imagine Moya will be on a lot. All murmurs surrounding Hirata is that he is working to get back to fighting fitness for next year. If fit, Hirata is certainly a lock for right-field given his defensive capabilities and high average with RISP. If Moya is on around $500-700k it represents a low-risk investment for if and when Hirata doesn't work out this year and it also offers insurance for injuries. It also however spells a vote of no confidence in the abilities of Yusuke Matsui, Atsushi Fujii, Hiroki Kondo, Masataka Iryo and others who were called up and did reasonably in those positions in the tail end of last season. As it stands however, I'll be surprised if Moya can turn it around even in the 2-gun.
Both Almonte and Moya have now been confirmed by various sources as having signed with the club and there is apparently an expectation on the Chunichi side that they both report with the rest of the Japanese staff on the starting day of Spring training. Foreign signings in the past have been given leeway on this point, but the Dragons want to get them and work with them as soon as possible.
No other names have been mentioned so far but Dragons representative are attending the Winter Meeting in Florida looking specifically for starting pitchers. The team is looking for two arms that can slot into the rotation. There is also a strong likelihood that development contracted Raidel Martinez will be added to the first team roster giving us a total of 3 international arms. The team is also on the look out for one more bat, but the rumours so far have been a catcher on a development contract from either the DR or Cuba.
|Shota Ono will take the catcher's mask in Nagoya.|
That brings us to one of the longer ongoing sagas of the off-season, the signing of Nippon Ham Fighters catcher, Shota Ono
. Ever since the end of the season there have been murmurs of the team looking for a new catcher. I mentioned this in my post about the future of the Dragons
early in November. As of the 11th of December however, Ono will officially sign-on as a Dragon after accepting a 3 year $2.5M deal. This works out to around $833,000 a year..ish which will make him the third highest earning fielder after Yohei Oshima and Ryosuke Hirata.
Ono's capture comes after the Dragons failed to find a regular catcher this year. Sugiyama, Matsui, Kinoshita and Takeyama all had significant spells in the first team this year and none of them really had it all. Matsui got the closest to being called the default starting catcher, but it was simply a continuing story of who will take over the dish full-time in the post-Tanishige era. After feeling unsatisfied with in-house options, the Dragons looked on the open market and found Shota Ono, a native of Ogaki in neighbouring Gifu prefecture open to a move closer to home.
If you look at Ono's 2017 slash line, as a batter he hasn't really done much better than Masato Matsui this year. Behind the plate, his ability to catch runners decreased as well but the hope will be that given his guidance, the younger group of pitchers at the Dragons might have the confidence to grow more and more. Ono helped mentor the MLB bound Shohei Otani, 2015 ROTY Kohei Arihara, 2016 ROTY Hirotoshi Takanashi, Takayuki Kato and a host of other pitchers to make in the professional baseball. One can't deny the prodigious talent of Otani, but Ono has surely left a mark on many of those named above which is what the Dragons are banking on. Also, as a recent Japan Series winner, I guess the hope would be that Ono can help bring in a winning mentality to the team.
The interesting caveat is not that the Dragons gain Ono, which is of course all well and good, but it's who the team stands to lose. With FA transactions in the NPB, the team who signs the FA player must then return compensation to the club that has lost that player. The Dragons can protect up to 28 players on the roster from being taken as compensation. This opens up an interesting conversation over who the Fighters would be interested in versus who the Dragons are willing to give up.
I've seen a couple of theories so far, but I'd like to take some time here to discuss who we can and should leave unprotected with reasons for the more eyebrow raising selections.
|Shinnosuke Ogasawara||Shinji Tajima ||Hitoki Iwase|
|Yu Sato||Katsuki Matayoshi||Yuya Yanagi|
|Shota Suzuki||Kazuki Yoshimi||Toshiya Okada|
|Yudai Ono||Koji Fukutani||Taisuke Maruyama|
|Daisuke Yamai||Takuma Achira||Daisuke Sobue|
|Takuya Asao||Takuya Mitsuma||Shotaro Kasahara|
|Kento Fujishima||Ryuya Ogawa||Keisuke Tanimoto|
|Shunta Wakamatsu||Ryosuke Oguma||Junki Ito|
I'm playing the percentages a little bit here, but also throwing caution to the wind with others. What the Fighters want is pitching after losing Otani to the MLB and Hirotoshi Masui to the Buffaloes. First of all, there's no need to protect veterans as the Fighters won't want them. Yoshimi, Asao, Yamai and Iwase should be safe. Wakamatsu and Fukutani are the two that are enticing pieces that the Fighters might be interested in. My reason for including them is that whatever we're doing, it's clearly not working. Wakamatsu is still a one-trick pony and he's not particularly well liked in Nagoya. However, if he can develop a couple of more dangerous breaking balls, he's a good looking-starter. At present thought he has a fastball that can't take strikes and a change-up that is being sat on by batters all over the NPB. Fukutani I would leave unprotected because Hiroshi Suzuki is coming in, a very similar type of pitcher and because we have quite a few right-arm relievers that are doing the job. I've also protected anyone under 21 and anyone drafted last year. Tanimoto I leave out simply because I doubt the Fighters would take him back so soon after letting him leave.
|Takuya Kinoshita||Masato Matsui||Takuma Kato|
|Iori Katsura||Shota Sugiyama||Shingo Takeyama|
I am not a fan of Matsui and given his closeness in age to Ono, it makes little sense to keep him. Kinoshita and Sugiyama have the highest ceilings out of this group and are still young enough to challenge Ono for the position in the future. Kato and Katsura have fallen down the pecking order and should be left unprotected. The Fighters aren't likely to take a catcher as they seem to have a few.
|Masahiro Araki||Shuhei Takahashi||Toshiki Abe|
|Shun Ishikawa||Issei Endo||Masami Ishigaki|
|Ryota Ishioka||Taiki Mitsumata||Hayato Mizowaki|
|Yota Kyoda||Kyohei Kamezawa||Nobumasa Fukuda|
|Naomichi Donoue||Tetsuya Tani|
I was very tempted to leave Donoue out before I realised it would leave us with no immediate cover at short so he stays for his glove and as the club's only real utility infielder. Araki stays unprotected as like the veteran pitchers he's very unlikely to be poached while the other unprotected players would no significant loss. Ishigaki and Mizowaki could be the future of the infield so they stay and Kamezawa just had his best season in Dragons colours and is a clubhouse leader so he definitely stays. The others speak for themselves.
|Shota Tomonaga||Atsushi Fujii||Ryosuke Hirata|
|Yohei Oshima||Masataka Iryo||Kei Nomoto|
|Yusuke Matsui||Takahito Kudo||Hiroki Kondo|
Outfielder decisions are a little easier. Hirata and Oshima are arguably two of the clubs best hitters while Matsui had a great hot streak at the end of this year. Fujii had a great year too but he's 37 and an unlikely choice. Kondo is the only one I was a little worried about, but I don't think he's done enough to be an appealing piece.
Largely, I think the Fighters will look to take a pitcher in compensation or some cash. Leaving Wakamatsu and Fukutani unprotected should focus the Fighters pursuit of some of our other talent. Personally, I don't think the team is missing out if we put those two out to dry. I really like Fukutani and would love for him to stay but something tells me he'd thrive at the Fighters so I'd be okay with him leaving if he goes on to bigger and better things.
Overall, is there enough here to get excited about? Kind of. I think Almonte and Ono will big big deciding factors on how our season goes this year. Ono's ability to lead the pitchers is going to be important and his acquisition will also remove any doubts over who will be wearing the mask the majority of the season. Someone with considerable experience catching is going to be a positive I feel for this team and will aid the development of the likes of Suzuki, Yanagi, Ogasawara, Kasahara and co.
We're still on the lookout for pitchers at the Winter Meetings, but we'll see what comes back. I'm not going to hold my breath and in a way I'm okay with the team the way it is.