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Monday, January 22, 2018

Off-Season News: Gee whiz, Hoshino departure, Compensation drama

Time for a news update. I am working on a couple of posts that are a little bit more involved but as there have been some updates that I've fallen behind on, I thought I'd bring in some of the more important news as well as a few other not so important news items.

King Gee
First of all, the Dragons have captured former MLB regular, Dillon Gee who is expected to join the starting rotation nice and early. Gee enjoyed much of his success in the majors with the New York Mets even turning out as starting day pitcher for the team. He was a solid contributor for the Royals in 2016 but failed to make an impression with the Rangers in early 2017. The Minnesota Twins picked up Gee mid-season on a minor-league contract where Gee was very effective in a swing-man role posting very good number as mostly a long-relief pitcher. The capture of Gee addresses and important facet of the Dragons rotation which has been lacking more quality right-handed pitchers. Yuya Yanagi, Shota Suzuki and Kazuki Yoshimi were the main 3 in-house options but given reservations over all three, it's no surprise that Gee was jumped on.

Gee has signed on a one-year deal at roughly $1,000,000 USD. There's every possibility that Gee could have played in the majors this year but was likely not offered more than a minor league contract with an invitation to spring training. Given that the Dragons could offer guaranteed cash, this was probably the biggest appealing point in bringing him to Nagoya.

Gee's signing was announced at a "new year" address by the club in early January where the club also confirmed that they had done significant due process in signing the American born righty with some information let slip on contracts offered in the past based on little more than video evidence.

Where he will fit in is fairly obvious. I'm sure management see him as someone that will slot straight into the starting day rotation. My guess would be that we'll see Gee on the second day of the season. I'm quietly confident that Shinnosuke Ogasawara will be our starting day pitcher this year.

In terms of expectations, I feel Gee will have a significant impact on the team and marks a big upgrade on the likes of Raul Valdes and Jordan Norberto. This is the first signing in a long-time where I've thought "wow." Expect Gee to deal.

In terms of 2017 peripheral data, Gee was saved a lot by an exceptional Twins defense. While his ERA was only 3.47 this year, xFIP bumps him up to 4.78. His BABIP was a little above league average so we can see that in the MLB he was pitching at about his ability. A 13.6% HR/FB percentage is a little bit concerning but like Onelki Garcia, this will likely be helped by the larger distance to the centre-field fence and the massive walls that help protect the stadium. How all this would translate to the NPB is yet to be seen, but there's plenty to like about this signing.

Gee becomes the first American born player to play for the Dragons since Matt Clark in 2013.

Total Drama Dragons
In case you missed it, the Nippon Ham Fighters and the Dragons finally settled on a compensation pick for FA mover Shota Ono. The infamous Mr "cash considerations." There was a significant delay in coming to this conclusion as the Fighters dragged their heels significantly on deciding on a deal due to the compelling players on the unprotected list.
Cash considerations gives it's debut speech in Sapporo.

The drama however is that one of those unprotected players was legendary closer Hitoki Iwase who was apparently picked by the Fighters as their compensation pick before the veteran southpaw reportedly refused the move and threatened to retire on the spot if picked. Needless to say, it is said that the Fighters withdrew their claim and cash was sent Hokkaido way instead. Now in the MLB, leaving a veteran in the wind wouldn't really cause many headaches and I severely doubt any sane club would try to pick one of them up over any kind of youngster with upside, but that's apparently what happened, and OH the STINK this has kicked up.
Something smells funny.

I personally think this was a very shrewd move from the Dragons and my personal choice was to leave the veterans unprotected in lieu of protecting younger players with potential upside. But, to many fans and an unnamed source in the dressing room have dialed this up to a sign of disrespect to the aging Iwase for all his years of service not to mention a man that's meant to be coaching this year. It's easy to understand that side of the argument as well, but from a pragmatic point of view I think the Dragons have done a very good job. That's an unpopular opinion in Dragons fan circles, but hey, the result is we kept all of our players.

Dice-K schedule for crapshoot
Daisuke Matsuzaka will undergo his test to for joining the Dragons on the 23rd of January. The result of which will decide whether or no the Dragons will bother to give the aging ace a go but apparently Matszaka is well and truly up to it and looking forward to showing off his wares. I'm less optimistic.

We all cheer for a trio of Suzukis

To add to the roster of Shota and Hiroshi Suzuki, news has picked up that the Dragons are doing due process on bringing Ichiro Suzuki to his hometown club if the aging legend can't find a team in the MLB. The Orix Buffaloes are the next most likely team to pick up Ichiro with "money" being third. Dragons officials ruled themselves out of the Ichiro race some months ago but apparently something has changed and they're back in pursuit. Ichiro would be a massive overspend and would rule the signing of Moya or Almonte null and would also make it difficult for Hiroki Kondo, Masataka Iryo and a host of others knocking on the door to make it in the 1-gun outfield.
Ichiro good in blue?
For a team flailing in the popularity rankings, bringing home the Aichi-born slap-hitter would be a massive boon to attendances. Not only would fans flock from around the Tokai area but from much further afield as this man is a living legend. Whether Ichiro would be up to coming back to Japanese baseball is yet to be seen. One could imagine that he wouldn't take well to the reverse culture shock and being suddenly thrown into a role as a mentor for the rest of the team.

Vale, Senichi Hoshino
In more somber news, former Dragons skipper and pitching ace, Senichi Hoshino passed away on the 4th of January due to an ongoing battle with pancreatic cancer.

As a player Hoshino joined the Dragons from Meiji University in 1968 and won the Sawamura Award in 1974, helping the Dragons win their first pennant since 1954 under hall of famer Wally Yonamine. Hoshino played a swing-role through much of his career even becoming the first player to capture saves leader with it's introduction in 1974. He would go on to win one more pennant in his final year as a player under Sadao Kondo but the then 35 year old played a peripheral role in the capture of the flag.
Hoshino pitches in his Sawamura Award winning season.

Known as the "Giants Killer," Hoshino was known for his hot temper and his ability to up his game against the Giants and this passion continued as he entered a managerial role in 1987 with his former team. In the second year of his tenure, Hoshino claimed another pennant for his team in 1988 and once again in a second stint with the club in 1997. Over his managerial career Hoshino spent more than 11 years with the Dragons and including his playing time, spent a total of 25 years with the team through thick and thin.

Hoshino would not stop and spreading his legacy in Nagoya however as again in his second year as manager, this time with the Hanshin Tigers, the wily manager brought home their first pennant in 18 years, breaking the curse of Colonel Sanders, is 2003. Hoshino would leave the Tigers in 2004 with one major trophy still alluding him, the Japan Series. As a player and manager Hoshino had reached the post-season on 5 separate occasions but was on the losing side in each situation.

Hoshino then had a break from club coaching as he took the national team to the Beijing Olympics in 2008 where the team finished 4th overall. Hoshino was supposedly meant to the WBC manager in 2009 but was ultimately overlooked for the final role.

In 2011 he was offered the manager position at the 6-year old expansion team the Rakuten Eagles and under Hoshino's tutelage, the team swept through the Pacific League in his 3rd season claiming the pennant. In the Japan series Hoshino leaned on his ace pitcher Masahiro Tanaka to get them through key moments in the series and it was a Game 7 save from Tanaka that allowed the team to capture their and Hoshino's first ever Japan Series win.

Hoshino would step down following the the unsuccessful 2014 campaign and found himself elevated to Vice Chairman of the team where he continued to have significant influence.

Even throughout Hoshino's career with Hanshin and Rakuten, his heart seemingly remained with Nagoya. Hoshino regularly appeared on radio and television to talk about the Dragons and always had stern and frank advice for the team. After his admission to the hall of fame in 2017, Hoshino made a speech to fans, players and staff about creating a team that someone wants to come and see and minced few words.

Few people in baseball have such a profound impact, but Senichi Hoshino was one of those people. His memory will live on in the hearts and minds of all Japanese baseball lovers for eternity.

Former Dragons catcher at Hoshino protege Takeshi Nakamura possibly said some of the best words in the aftermath of Hoshino's passing.

"I still can't believe it. That Hoshino had passed. My memories are of him being angry with me. He was always angry. There was no other man as scary as him but I have nothing but feelings of gratefulness toward him."

He has left a big hole in this blogger's heart even though he wasn't alive or aware of his accomplishments for much of his career but looking into what he has done there's fair few words to describe the loss.

Vale, Senichi Hoshino.

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