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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.

Saturday, October 24, 2020

2020 NPB Draft Primer: Takahisa Hayakawa, Teruaki Sato and Hiroto Takahashi head the COVID-19 class


The NPB draft is just around the corner, Monday the 26th to be exact. We've only a little while to wait to see who the latest players into the fold will be. It will however be a different kind of draft this year thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic still raging on in Japan. The grandiose draft meeting will be a little more subdued with each team having a private room to minimize contact, while perhaps the biggest story is that, without the Koshien and other amateur tournaments going ahead this year, there's a lot larger element of luck with picking your guys. 

There isn't a Takaya Ishikawa or Akira Neo that dazzled for their high school teams on the biggest amateur stage in Japan. There isn't a Kyota Fujiwara, Shinnosuke Ogasawara or Taiga Hirasawa that lead their team deep into these tournaments which makes the pickings at the top all the harder to plan for and also provides fewer bolters for the first round of picks. 

Whatever the case may be, this may be a bit of a crapshoot of a draft beyond the first couple of rounds. I think we'll see even more high school amateurs take the college route as well to avoid being missed entirely by pro teams. That in itself will make the 2024 Draft quite intriguing for the COVID-19 generation of high school kids. 

So, with all this going on in the background, who are the top talents available? I'm going to give you a taster of who is being talked about for the top few rounds and with a basic idea of who wants them and what kind of player they are. I will just run through 6 highly talented players (in no particular order) just to give an idea of who’s out there. 

Hiroto Takahashi (高橋宏斗)will be one of the top targets at the draft. The right-handed pitcher has a fireball 153km/h velocity at 18 years old. Born in Owariasahi to Nagoya's northeast, Takahashi has been turning heads. Up to 7 clubs have expressed interest in the Chukyo hurler, and it has been murmured that his backyard club, the Chunichi Dragons are the most interested of the lot. This would be another "backyard" pick for the Dragons, whose last 3 top picks have been local or at least within team catchment talent. According to SportsNavi!, Takahashi is the highest rated talent at the draft this year. Nikkan Sports, seems to think the Dragons may even have a clear run at him.

Teruaki Sato (佐藤輝明)
, who I will now deem "Teriyaki" Sato for posterity, is the biggest bat on the draft card in 2020. A left handed third baseman who is a big boy, bring power to the plate. Sato won the MVP in the Kansai University fall league in 2018 where he hit with a .354 average and a .998 OPS. He was listed in the Best 9 at third base in spring of 2019 where he hit .333 with an even more impressive 1.107 OPS. Initially struggling to get on base, Sato showed steady progression with his plate discipline to turn into a very dangerous hitter. The jump from the Kansai University league to the NPB is a bit harder than a jump from the Big6 League in Tokyo, but Sato is not without his fair share of suitors. The Tigers, Giants, Hawks, Lions and Buffaloes are all reportedly set to select the slugger in the first round. I'd like to see him land at the Lions, Buffaloes or even Hawks. At the Lions and Hawks there are veteran sluggers at third that need replacing eventually and Sato would be well placed to make the step up gradually. At the Buffaloes however, he'd probably start from the outset with the team struggling to find a consistent successor to Eiichi Koyano who retired two years ago.

The top lefty pitcher on the card this year, Takahisa Hayakawa (早川隆久) already has a number of suitors with hometown team, the Chiba Lotte Marines, already declaring their interest in signing the man who went to high school in Kisarazu. The top velocity of 155km paired with his left-handedness alone make him a tasty looking prospect. With a 10.49 K/9 for his university career, Hayakawa stands out as one of the best prospects available. At present, the Carp, Baystars, Swallows, Marines, Eagles and Fighters look to be in the hunt for his signature in the first round. Possibly the most well polished of the prospects, it's no surprise that Hayakawa is a headliner for this year's draft.

A couple of years ago when Ryoji Kuribayashi (栗林良使) was at Meijo University, I highlighted him as a possible first or second round pick for the Dragons in 2018. The right hander however took a blow to his stocks and skipped the draft to pitch at Toyota which appears to have worked for him. Murmurs are that he'll almost certainly go in the first round this year particularly with the lack of barnstorming high schoolers rocketing to recognition in 2020. Traditionally reliant on the fastball, Kuribayashi could be another that better projects as a reliever rather than as a durable starter. Control was an issue that dogged him in college and it appears that this may still be a concern. Depending on where you look, he either tops out at 151 or 153km/h and has international experience with the Japanese collegiate team and the shakaijin amateur international squad that won the Asian Winter League in Taiwan last year. The Dragons, Carp and Baystars are said to be the most serious suitors for him at this stage but most likely as a fall back first pick.

The next most impressive talent off at the draft this year is college righty, Hiromi Ito (伊藤大海). A member of the collegiate Samurai Japan team, serving as the team's closer, Ito already has been tipped for big things. A strong fastball with a solid arrangement of breaking balls, Ito is perhaps the best "ready to go" pitcher available. A solid choice for any role, but one might think he projects for a bullpen role. Another likely "local" choice, the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters have already declared their intention to select Ito in the first round.

Possibly the talent with the most potential upside, Shunpeita Yamashita (山下舜平大) has been making waves this year. For any team, Yamashita would be a project to work on with. This year in what games have been held, he threw with a BB/9 of 4 and a SO/9 of 8.39. He did however have an extremely impressive outing against Higashi Fukuoka High School where he fanned 13 batters in 7 innings. An ace for his team since his second year of school, Yamashita may well have been one of those Koshien stories if not for COVID-19 ravaging the world this year.  Among his best breaking balls is a sharply dipping curve which is probably his best delivery, but has also a decent slider and change-up in his armory. Probably another back-up pick or at worst a second-round pick. He could be one for the future however.

As you can probably tell, the majority of the "top" talents this year come out of college which isn't surprising given the lack of high school baseball this year. 

Only a couple more sleeps to go. Watch this space for me annual Dragons draftee report. 

Thursday, October 15, 2020

The Race for the Sawamura Award: Yudai Ono well in the hunt


With about 20+ games left in the season, the post-season awards are starting to come into focus. The Eiji Sawamura Award in particular looks to be an interesting case for a battle between 3 Central League starters; Tomoyuki Sugano of the Giants, Yudai Ono of the Dragons and Yuki Nishi of the Tigers. Mention could also be made for Yoshinobu Yamamoto of the Buffaloes and Hideaki Wakui of the Eagles in the Pacific League who too is having an excellent season.

First of all, we should run through what it is the selection committee looks for. It is always important to understand that the Eiji Sawamura Award differs from the MLB's Cy Young in a number of ways. Firstly, the Sawamura award is only given to one pitcher in the entirety of NPB. The MLB awards a Cy Young for the American League and the National League. Also, the Sawamura is judged against a very specific criteria that is said to embody the spirit of Eiji Sawamura. The Cy Young is generally just awarded to the statistically "best" pitcher. Finally, a Sawamura Award committee comprised of former winners of the award decide who receives it; not the media and not the players' peers. 

So, what are the categories that the committee scrutinize the most?

>25>10>15>60%>200+>150under 2.5
* As of 2018 players are also judged on QS%

Generally, a player must fulfill 4 of these categories in order to be considered for the award. In recent years, complete games have been the most difficult thing to assess with only 2 players in the last 10 years reaching 10 CG (Masahiro Tanaka 2011, Tomoyuki Sugano 2018). I haven't seen a number for QS%, but I'm going to assume it's about 75%. 

The other thing we must consider in 2020 is that the season has been shortened by 23 games. The Award committee may well need to be a little more flexible in their assessment of appearances, wins and innings pitched in particular as most starters will likely pitch in 4-5 fewer games than they have in the past. 

Rather than dally too much on those facts, I want to have a look at how each starter currently looks and make some broad assumptions about where they might end up at the season's end. I don't have much in the way of projection equations, so we'll just be taking educated guesses.

Let's line up the players stat lines and see where each player is at currently:
Tomoyuki Sugano173130.929120.11132.0288.24
Yudai Ono17990.643126.21281.9276.47
Yuki Nishi17390.6921241012.1888.24
Yoshinobu Yamamoto17180.667119.21392.1876.47
Hideaki Wakui171110.786113992.9582.35

All but Hideaki Wakui have already passed 3 of the categories; W%, ERA and QS%. Whether or not QS% counts as one of the 4 categories, I'm not sure. Otherwise everyone is travelling well. However, what would these stat lines look like if we extrapolated for a 25 appearance season where most Sawamura award contenders in the past have been judged? I'm keeping ERA, QS% and W% as constants to ease of averaging everything out:

Tomoyuki Sugano254190.9291761662.0288.24
Yudai Ono2513130.6431851881.9276.47
Yuki Nishi254130.6921821482.1888.24
Yoshinobu Yamamoto251110.6671742042.1876.47
Hideaki Wakui251160.7861661342.9582.35

This makes things really interesting. Yudai Ono and Tomoyuki Sugano now fulfill 6 of the 8 categories. In this case it's a battle between Ono, who pitched more innings, strikeouts and complete games vs Sugano who has 19 wins and otherwise relatively comparable numbers. This then comes down to how you value wins vs complete games. In Ono's case, he's really carried his team to what could be their first A-Class finish in 8 years. Sugano on the other hand has just about been the best player in the Central League this year and is a good candidate for MVP as well as the Sawamura the only thing there is that the Giants are a much better team overall. It is however worth saying that wins mean something to the committee. Only one pitcher has taken the award without 15 or more wins and that was Yutaka Ono of the Hiroshima Carp in 1988 where he had 13 wins over 33 games.

The other thing we must take into account, is that if Sugano wins the Sawamura, it will be his third. That will put him in a very elite club with 4 other pitchers that have won the award three times. The the committee may well not consider him worthy of the company. 

Finally, if Sugano were to win the MVP, then perhaps the committee might be more willing to give the award to Yudai Ono so that the awards are shared around a bit more. In NPB history, there have been 14 MVP-Sawamura dual award winners. The Central League haven't been fond of doing this as much as the Pacific League in recent years with Kenshin Kawakami in 2004 being the last such pitcher awarded both prestigious titles. Since Kawakami, 5 Pacific League pitchers have been dual holders of the awards. 

I think it will really come down to the intangible factors, the things that pitchers by themselves really can't control. Sugano has had a monstrous 2020, but Ono has been similarly excellent on a much poorer team. It may come down to a very subjective decision but if the Dragons finish second in the league, Ono might just sway the decision his way.

Wednesday, September 2, 2020

Dragons Den: News around the Dome; Ono the unbendable (1/9/2020)


Thanks to all of those that provided feedback for in the form from the last post. I have a better idea of what you want to see from me. For the time being, I'll try to at least put up some team news once a week based on what I've scoured over from the local sports rags and any other information I can dig up. So with that, it's time for another edition of Dragons Den. 

  • Yudai Ono has pitched his 5th consecutive complete game thus equaling the
    Dragons record alongside Mitsuru Sato, Hiroshi Gondo and Katsuhiko Ishikawa. Quite a feat given it hasn't happened in 14 years and the you have look back almost 50 years to see when it last happened. If it weren't for a certain Giants right-hander, Ono would be the front-runner for the Sawamura Award nomination.
Perhaps the scary thing for Dragons fans is that amidst the best season of his career, Ono will become a domestic free agent at the end of it. A big club might come calling and it's going to take a sizeable offer to keep him in Nagoya given the class he's exuding. Add to the fact that he's a childhood fan of the Tigers who also happen to have deep pockets....
  • Katsuki Matayoshi has returned to the top team for the first time in 2 months after having 6 scoreless outing on the farm. Matayoshi was looking sharp in pre-season but hadn't yet found his way into Tsuyoshi Yoda's plans. He's hoping this is his chance to stay with the top team for the rest of the year. 
  • Ryosuke Hirata is one away from his 1000th professional hit after his single against the Carp in the 8th inning on Tuesday. Hirata has returned to the first-team for the most part after a lengthy absence where Masataka Iryo was most prevalent filling-in in right-field.
  • Ariel Martinez is back to about 90% of his powers following his left hand injury. He had a live batting practice against Hiroaki Matsuda on Tuesday marking the first time facing up against a pitcher since his injury. 
  • Akiyoshi Katsuno was brought up for the game on Sunday against the Giants and after a woeful first inning, looked to bring things back together with a well pitched 6-inning outing. Perhaps not what he had hoped after 22 days away from the top team, but he showed that he can re-focus on the mound. Katsuno was perhaps a bit unlucky with rookie catcher, Yuya Gunji dropping a few pitches while the Giants somehow hit some bullets within the diamond dimensions to advance runners. Hopefully a performance that will inspire confidence later on. Katsuno was de-registered on Monday.
  • Hiroto Fuku had a 0.00 ERA through August! the lefty reliever has gone from strength to strength after his breakout season last year. He pitched 8 games without a run earned in August with a 2-0 record and 3 holds.
  • In case you were wondering where Kodai Umetsu is (I was!), he has been working out on the farm after some discomfort in his right elbow which led to his deactivation at the start of August. On Saturday, he was said to be "throwing at 80%" strength claiming that his "elbow was fine now". He threw 30 pitches to a standing catcher. He has a 2-3 record with a 3.74 ERA this season after opening the year in the starting rotation.
  • In other injury news, Kenshin Kakikoshi, Ryushin Takeuchi and Hiroaki Matsuda all returned from various injuries to start their rehabilitation programs.
  • More on the farm, and on Saturday, Masami Ishigaki had a multi-hit game including his 3rd homer of the the Western League season to maintain his pedestal of average leader. He's hitting .373 over 33 games with a .952 OPS. A first team call surely can't be too far away. 2019 top draft pick, Takaya Ishikawa sits in 5th with a .272 average and a .738 OPS. 
  • In case you hadn't heard, the Dragons have applied successfully for rookie status for Yariel Rodriguez and Ariel Martinez. Rodriguez last outing against the Giants may well turn the press against him for ROTY honours, but should either win the award, they'd be the first foreign player to do it. As neither have played in MLB or MiLB, the argument goes that they're eligible for the award at the end of the year.
  • On Tuesdays game, Yoda was effusive in his praise for his hitters getting a 3-run cushion in the 8th inning despite 2 outs on the board saying that the his hitters ability to identify the pitches coming in was key to victory. Shuhei and Abe put the runs on the board. 
  • In news that surprises no-one, despite their 4th placing, the Dragons have the fewest homeruns in NPB, sticking with modern trends, with 34. The Pacific League basement dwelling Buffaloes are the next worst at 42.
Team ERA however is 4th in the NPB indicating the pitching is apparently doing something right.

  • On the individual leaderboard side of things, Shuhei Takahashi is 5th in the Central League in average while Dayan Viciedo trails RBI leader, the Giants' Kazuma Okamoto by 3. Yudai Ono meanwhile is 3rd in ERA and 2nd in WHIP while leading the Central League in strikeouts and strikeout percentage (9.37) Ono's FIP ranks a bit higher than Tomoyuki Sugano, but it's Sugano's 5 point run support average to Ono's 3 points that might be the decider in who gets the glory in the end of season awards.

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Dragons Den: News around the Dome (19/8/2020)

 Apologies for the lack of activity, Dragons fans. I've finally found some time to put up a post. 

In regards to the format from here on in, I'm going to freestyle it a little bit. I'm going to go more feature heavy and lessen the pressure on myself to put up daily/weekly match reports. I am however keen to know what my readers want, so please, have a look at this survey and drop me any tips or anything you'd like to see on the blog. More frequent updates are a given, but I'd like to get a better idea of why you visit my website and what you want to see from me in the future. 

So let's dive into some of the more interesting news coming out of camp and the world of the Chunichi Dragons. 

  • Yohei Oshima racked up his 1500th hit against the Swallows on Tuesday making him the fastest in club history to achieve the feat. 70s-80s hit machine, Kenichi Yazawa and Mr Dragons III, Kazuyoshi Tatsunami also achieved the feat in their 11th season, but it is Oshima who leads the pack. In saying that, Yazawa achieved the feat in fewer plate appearances so, I'd argue he's ahead. 

Looking deeper into the statistic to see which other notable Dragons passed the 1500 hit mark in their careers, I found that Hirokazu Ibata achieved it in his 13th year while luminaries, Morimichi Takagi and Toshio Naka both achieved the feat in their 14th seasons. Oshima is in very, very, good company!

  • Akira Neo is putting more work on the farm and former outfielder and commentator, Yonetoshi Kawabata seems optimistic about what Neo learned at the top team mentioning that Neo appears to be loosening up when swinging causing his body to move more fluidly. Hopefully good signs! Neo has played a variety of positions for the Dragons this year, mostly in outfield, but has often played at second on the farm-team.

  • Shinnosuke Ogasawara won his first game of the season on Tuesday against the Swallows in his 2nd start of the year. The occasion was marked also as the first win between he and formal Koshien rival, Yuya Gunji. Gunji and Ogasawara were on opposing sides in the 2015 Koshien final where Ogasawara pitching Tokai Sagamihara High School to the championship against Gunji's Sendai Ikuei. 

  • Yudai Ono has pitched 3 complete games in a row showing his vintage form. The most recent against the Giants on Sunday marked his second against the Central League leaders. It was also his third, 10-plus-strikeout game of the season. This is the first time in club history that a pitcher has had 3 consecutive, 10K+, complete games. This was the first time in 14 years that a Chunichi starter had 3 consecutive complete games.
Mitsuru Sato in 2006 was the last Dragons pitcher to throw three consecutive complete games in the team's pennant winning year; he ended up throwing 5 to equal the club record held by Hiroshi Gondo (1961) and Katsuhiko Ishikawa (1955).
  • Raidel Martinez keeps impressing as he clocked 160km/h on the gun again on Tuesday, the fastest pitch thrown by a Chunichi right-hander in club history. The Cuban fireballer has settled into the closer role after it was vacated by Toshiya Okada in a short-lived experiment to see if another lefty with a handy slider could be the Dragons' "God of Death". 
  • Due to the flooding rains that have affected Gifu prefecture in recent months, the Dragons will be donating funds to the recovery effort through the sale of player towels. The Dragons have a number of Gifu-natives on their roster with the prefecture falling well within established team. 
  • Older news, but Ariel Martinez became the first foreign catcher since David "Dingo" Nilsson in 2000, to field behind the plate. We also witnessed one for the rare occasions in NPB history where a foreign pitcher threw to a foreign catcher when Luis Gonzalez took to the mound. Martinez has really added some fire to the catching department with no only his hitting but also his game calling. Yuya Gunji and Takuya Kinoshita as well seem to be benefiting from the stimulation as they've been hitting much better this year too.
  • Shuhei Takahashi is hitting .327 in August with a .403 OBP. The captain has been getting on base like a monster and has just slotted in so well at the number 5 position. 
  • Back to the Cubans, and Yariel Rodriguez is the latest off the production line. His last start was 6 innings of no-hit pitching until he was undone in the 7th. Still, it was to be his victory. With Enny Romero showing no signs of returning, and Luis Gonzalez perhaps not being as effective as hoped, there's been an opportunity for Gonzalez to hop into the rotation and so far, he's not looked out of his depth. He is now one of four Cubans with the club and the third that has graduated from the farm via a development contract. Rodriguez, unlike A-Mart, was a very quick promotion as he only had to toil on the farm for less than 6 months before he was given a fully rostered deal.

Friday, July 10, 2020

Weekly Wrap: Carp & Tigers; Seiya Suzuki tames timid Dragons while Tigers taunted (June 26- July 2)

Getting behind on reports, so we're going to do a couple of quick weekly wrap ups. The Dragons took on the Carp in what has been a fairly comfortable series win in previous years. Seiya Suzuki however did the damage. Against the lethargic Tigers, the end of the rotation proved to be enough to sweep the kitties in Nagoya

In wider team news, development catcher Ariel Martinez was given a full-time deal by the team after serving 2 years on the farm. 

Game 7
Dragons 1-4 Carp

A fairly familiar face in Daiichi Osera, threw down yet another complete game against the Dragons making that his gajillionth career CS vs the boys in blue. 

It was otherwise a typical Yudai Ono start as he gave up back-to-back homeruns to the Seiya Suzuki and Alejandro Mejia in his second inning. Ono would give up a further solo shot to Suzuki in the 4th inning before the Carp made things comfortable in the 5th with a timely single from Ryosuke Kikuchi. 

Shuhei Takahashi did all he could with a modasho batting 5th in the lineup. Kengo Takeda started in right-field ahead of the misfiring Ryosuke Hirata. Neither he nor Hirata, who later entered as a pinch-hitter, could make ample impact on the game. 

The bullpen held steady behind Ono with only 2 hits conceded in the final 4 innings. The team were in a good position to make the Carp pay in the 9th after loading the bases, but all Hirata could manage was a grounder to third base to end the inning. 

A typical showing against the Carp ace. 

Game 8
Dragons 6-1 Carp

Experience won out over youth and Kazuki Yoshimi out-pitched Hiroki Tokoda. Yoshimi seemed to hit his spots relatively well while Tokoda simply didn't. 

Nobumasa Fukuda started the scoring with a batting cage exectuted left-of-centre line-drive while Shuhei Takahashi would chime in next up to drive Fukuda home. Hirata, leading off this time, would drive Kyoda home in the second to effectively end Tokoda's start. The Carp would get one back in the 4th through Kikuchi but a volley from Almonte and Oshima in the 6th followed up by Viciedo's second homer of the season sealed the win.

Game 9
Dragons 3-10 Carp

It was launchpad day for the Carp as they smashed three homeruns and a massive total to speed away from the home team. Big hits to Jose Pirela, Shota Dobayashi and Kosuke Tanaka saw the Carp take things out of reach very quickly.

A battle of recent university graduates in 2019 draftee Masato Morishita and 2018 draftee, Kodai Umetsu saw the underclassman pitch the better game. Umetsu was credited with 7 of the Carp runs over his unsuccessful 5 innings. Takuya Mitsuma in relief did similarly poorly giving up the further 3. 

Yota Kyoda was the best with the bat for his multi-hit game, while Yuki Hashimoto was the only pitcher left unscathed with his two scoreless frames. 

Overall, an unhappy kind of series. The better starter won on every occasion and it wasn't really that close a match-up in any game in the end. The Dragons will be disappointed not to have done better against a team they're traditionally good against at home. 

To wax away the disappointment, fans were treated to an eyewash series sweep against the Tigers in their first match-up oft the year. 

Game 10
Dragons 5-0 Tigers

Yuya "run support" Yanagi threw a gem to help lead his team to victory. The righty-hurler threw down 7 strikeouts through 7 innings while Raidel Martinez and Toshiya Okada cleaned up the 8th and 9th. 

Toshiki Abe gave the Dragons a precarious 1-0 lead in the 6th but it a demoralizing grand slam from Zoilo Almonte put the Dragons into cruise control. 

A tidy win where the team did the right things at the right times. Yanagi seems to look pretty good as the leader of the bottom-half of the rotation while he looks to be taking a whole lot of strikeouts which is another positive. So far, he looks like he's taken a step on last year. 

Game 11
Dragons 6-3 Tigers

Takumi Yamamoto claimed his first win of the year with 6 tidy frames for 2 earned runs. 

A profitable 5th inning would be where the team would truly get the winning wheels moving as Hirata and Viciedo drove in 3 runs. Shuhei Takahashi's following at-bat would see the team score on a passed ball to push things to 6-1. The Tigers would claim two more runs, including Justin Bour's first homer in Japan, but it wouldn't be enough as the Dragons took the series. 

Takuya Kinoshita starred with the bat with a modasho and and RBI to his name, while Ryosuke Hirata similarly chimed in with 2 hits and an RBI of his own. 

Game 12
Dragons 4-2 Tigers

Yuichiro Okano had a rough outing against the Baystars in his debut but the run-support was with him in a solid but unremarkable outing. 

Dayan Viciedo was the hero with the bat as his 3-run shot in the first inning wasn't to be bested by the Tigers. 

The pinch-hitting Masataka Iryo added to the team's tally in the 8th inning. Raidel Martinez would give fans jitters in the 9th after putting 2 Tigers on base, but an infield-fly and a double-play would vindicate the rapid firing hurler. 

Overall, a positive series win for the Dragons over a misfiring Tigers outfit. The Tigers have had their worries early in the season, but if they get firing with Jerry Sands, Bour and Jefrey Marte in their line-up, I'm sure they'll be a dangerous foe later down the stretch. 

Friday, June 26, 2020

Series Wrap: Baystars v Dragons @ Yokohama Stadium, June 23-25; Baystars set Dragons alight in series sweep

After a hoodoo shaking 2-1 series win over the Swallows in the opening weekend, the Dragons were taken back to earth very quickly with a short trip on the Fukutoshin line out to Yokohama. While Yuya Yanagi and Takumi Yamamoto put up valiant efforts to keep their team in the hunt, but Yuichiro Okano was given a rough introduction to the NPB with a less than glorious start on Thursday. 

Game 4
Baystars 3-0 Dragons

Yuya Yanagi made his first start of the year against the team that he almost signed for back in the 2016 draft. Tyler Austin and Toshiro Miyazaki were the destroyers for the Baystars as Austin went 4-4 with and RBI and Miyazaki hit the nail in the coffin solo homer in the 6th. 

The Dragons managed to match the Baystars in hits with Yohei Oshima going 4-3 in the lead-off spot. The team however was unable to convert their any chances as Haruhiro Hamaguchi went 8 1/3 innings in a quality start. Yanagi threw 6 innings for 8 strikeouts, but wasn't economical with his pitch could as he threw 120 pitches in only 6 innings. Hiroshi Suzuki had 2 clean innings with 2 strikeouts to mop up the game but ultimately the Dragons line-up would not respond to an otherwise decent outing from their starter. 

Game 5
Baystars 3-2 Dragons

The diminutive Takumi Yamamoto was given his first run in the opening rotation at the tender age of 20 years old. The youngster from Takarazuka in Hyogo prefecture put up 5 steady frames that were disrupted by a go ahead homerun from Takayuki Kajitani. The Dragons had opened the scoring in the 2nd inning with Shuhei Takahashi's first homerun of the season in front of his hometown crowd. 

Despite mustering 10 hits, the lack of cutthroat ability with runners in scoring positions meant the team would lose out in a close game.

Dayan Viciedo, Toshiki Abe, Yota Kyoda and Yohei Oshima all had mutl-hit games but it was the misfiring middle-order sans Ryosuke Hirata that didn't put things together while Issei Endo and Zoilo Almonte in the 2 and 3 spots went hit-less. On a different day, keeping a team to 3-runs would have been easy to defeat, but early season form hasn't been encouraging yet. 

Game 6
Baystars 10-2 Dragons

My big hope for an immediate impact in the rotation, Yuichiro Okano, was shot down in flames as his introduction to NPB was a rough one. The Dragons started the game with Yuya Gunji behind the plate for his starting debut to create the first Dragons rookie battery since 2016 with Shinnosuke Ogasawara and Takuya Kinoshita. They also proved to be the first battery to make their NPB starting debut together since spring of 1937.

The Baystars took 5 runs off 5 innings including a homerun given to Tyler Austin in the 1st inning with a juicy chest high meat ball. Yuya Sakamoto on the mound for Yokohama was in good form as he took 5Ks in 6 innings keeping the Dragons to just one hit. Whilst Okano gave up 5, the relief pitching wasn't much better as fellow rookie, Yuki Hashimoto gave up 2 more in 2 innings despite 4Ks (a 2-run homer to Kajitani) while Hiroshi Suzuki faired even worse with a 3-run dinger given up to Toshiro Miyazaki. 

The Dragons clawed back 2-runs through a Yohei Oshima hit and a Toshiki Abe homer, but it was all too little too late as the pitching staff let the team down.

The Analysis
Overall, the first two games were winnable but the key cogs in the line-up just didnt' fire when required. Oshima is batting .400 through the first 6 games of the season; you can't expect much more from a lead-off hitter. Almonte conversely is currently hitting .263 with Viciedo averaging .231. Fukuda and Hirata similarly haven't done what has been required either. Not a great look from your clean-up hitters.

Yoda looks to have been platooning Fukuda and Almonte which looks good on paper, but Almonte is a switch hitter so you'd assume he could be a regular but I think the manager is doing his best to fit two of his better hitters in the line-up as often as possible. Fukuda can be so dangerous when he's on but it seems like he's only hot for a couple of months a year. Let's hope he can find his bat after warming up over the opening 2 series. 

The rotation will go through a second turn in the next home series against the Carp where Yudai Ono faces up to Daiichi Ohsera who has been somewhat of a thorn in the Dragons side the last couple of years. (What's a few complete game shutouts between friends?) The Dragons have however been good against the Carp at home, so this should be a good contest if Ono has found his feet. 

News from the Front
* Dragons golden boy, Akira Neo looks like he'll get a promotion to the top team for the first home series of the year after doing pretty well on the farm going 16-5 over 5 games batting 3rd and fielding at second.

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Series Wrap: Swallows v Dragons @ Jingu Stadium, June 19-21; First opening series win in 8 years

The Dragons opened the 2020 season with the first good impression they've made to the year in 8 years as they took 2 games off the Swallows at Jingu with one convincing performance and one not as much so. 

Friday night's game was a slug fest as both team aces gave up hits like a pitching machine. 35 hits in total for the first game of the season marked a somewhat surreal beginning to the year. Dayan Viciedo's first homer of the year seemed to start things off well but a Tetsuto Yamada homer in the bottom of the same inning saw the Swallows take the lead. 

It was to be a topsy-turvy, close, affair and it took the Dragons until the 7th inning to get back on parity as Yota Kyoda and Shuhei Takahashi drove in 3 runs. Into extras, it was the Dragons that would come out on top as a Donoue grounder and a Abe single put the away team two in front. Toshiya Okada would load the bases in the bottom of the 10th to make for a tense ending, but he would finish in style, striking out young prodigy, Munetaka Murakami to end the game. 

It was a night for hitters. More than usual for Jingu. Yudai Ono only got through 4 innings after giving up 6 earned runs but the bullpen was able to hold it together for the rest of the game with only Hiroshi Suzuki giving up further runs. Ono just didn't have "it" on the day but luckily the team still pulled though. 

Saturday's game was a different tale as the batters quietened with Ryuya Ogawa and Kazuki Yoshimi on the mound. Yoshimi put in a solid 5 innings which were tarnished by 3 runs given up through 2 homers to Yamada and Murakami. The Dragons were able to claw 2 runs back but ultimately couldn't match the long-ball prowess of the Swallows middle-order. Shuhei's and Takuya Kinoshita's multi-hit games were just about the only thing to write home about in a relatively disappointing performance. 2019 #2 pick, Yuki Hashimoto made his professional debut in this game pitching a clean inning of relief.

The series decider would be decided by Kodai Umetsu's stunning performance on
the mound. The righty hurler threw a peachy 7 innings for 5 strikeouts looking to get impressive spin on his fastball, keeping the Swallows out of contention. Kyoda's 2-4un homer in the 2nd made life easier for Umetsu earlier, while an additional run added in the 6th made things comfortable where Umetsu himself scored. Credit must go to the Swallows too however as Hiroki Yamada pitched pretty well despite the homer given to Kyoda.

Overall, you can only be happy with the result. Ono exploding was perhaps not the greatest thing to watch but given he seems to require rhythm more than and other Dragons pitcher, I think we'll see him settle a little later on. Kazuki Yoshimi, despite being billed as someone with a good record against the Swallows, basically did was I expected would happen, ate a few innings for too many runs. My guess is that next week against the Carp, his spot will be taken by Shinnosuke Ogasawara. 

The Dragons will stay in the Kanto region to face the Baystars in Yokohama before the team have their home opener against the Carp on the weekend.

Friday, June 19, 2020

Opening Day 2020: We're back, baby.

The NPB is back after a lengthy delay due to the effects that COVID-19 are having across Japan and the world at large. Some players are still stranded overseas (most notably Yurisbel Gracial and Alfredo Despaigne of the Hawks) but we're all set for a start tonight at 18:00 JST.

The Dragons start their season with a 3 game series at Jingu Stadium against the Swallows, followed by a series against the Baystars, in Yokohama, from Tuesday. The first home series will be against the Carp on the 26th. 

How things will happen is a bit different to the regular season. The Central League has scrapped the Climax Series to save time and fit in more regular season games while the Pacific League will have a shortened version of. Interleague has also been scrapped. In the Central League it will be first past the post that goes to the Japan Series just like the days of yore. Games are also limited to 10 innings so we won't see any 12 inning ties like we have in the past, once again in an effort to save time and keep players fresh. International players will also be given another space on the roster for the time being so cool-off times become less of an issue. Teams can have up to 5 international players on their roster but only 4 can take the field in one game. Overall, 120 games will be played meaning a reduction of 23 games (plus the Climax Series). 

The Dragons themselves will be raring to go with Yudai Ono given opening day duties for the first time in 3 years. 2019 saw Shotaro Kasahara open things up while 2018 was a younger Shinnosuke Ogasawara. Ono has looked good enough in pre-season and it looks like Kazuki Yoshimi and Kodai Umetsu will be backing him up in Tokyo over this weekend. In the back-end of the rotation, we'll likely see a combo of Takumi Yamamoto and rookie Yuichiro Okano with the 6th spot still a bit up in the air. Yuya Yanagai and Shinnosuke Ogasawara are the likely candidates to fill that role. We'll still have to wait and see what the back-end of the rotation looks like, but it's possible that Yoshimi might be shifted to take spot starts with the aforementioned duo slotting in to his old spot. 

As for the roster, two rookies have made it to starting day with Yuki Hashimoto working out the bullpen and Yuya Gunji behind the dish. Takuma Kato looks the most likely to get a work out on opening day, but we'll probably see Gunji at some point in the near future. Hashimoto, let's face it, will probably see some work on Saturday after 5 good or 3 terrible innings from Yoshimi. Luis Gonzalez, Raidel Martinez, Zoilo Almonte and Dayan Viciedo all make the opening day roster with Moises Sierra missing out. Enny Romero is still injured.

The roster however has come together as follows but keep in mind there are still at least 2 starters that will be registered later for the games against Yokohama.

Pitchers: Yuki Hashimoto, Katsuki Matayoshi, Yuya Yanagi, Kazuki Yoshimi, Toshiya Okada, Yudai Ono, Kodai Umetsu, Daisuke Sobue, Hiroto Fuku, Hiroshi Suzuki, Luis Gonzalez, Raidel Martinez

Catchers: Takuya Kinoshita, Yuya Gunji, Takuma Kato

Infielders: Yota Kyoda, Shuhei Takahashi, Toshiki Abe, Shun Ishikawa, Nobumasa Fukuda, Naomichi Donoue, Dayan Viciedo

Outfielders: Ryosuke Hirata, Yohei Oshima, Issei Endo, Masataka Iryo, Masaru Watanabe, Zoilo Almonte, Kengo Takeda

A pretty well rounded team with no big suprises. Shun Ishikawa coming in as a pinch-hitter seems to make sense while Hiroshi Suzuki gets a chance to prove himself as an NPB level reliever again. Otherwise the team looks much like it did last year with the additions of Gonzalez, Gunji and Hashimoto. Matayoshi's stocks have risen again and he'll be back supporting the middle-back end of the bullpen. 

Overall, who isn't excited to just see some baseball!? There won't be any crowds, but there will be plenty of people looking on with the MLB still on hold and the Japanese fans hungry to see their teams back in action. With COVID-19 still doing the rounds in Japan there's no certainty that the teams will be able to play the full 120 games in any case, but at least the foot is out the door.

*Yakult Swallows vs Chunichi Dragons @ Meiji Jingu Stadium, starts on 19th June at 18:00 (JST).

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Trading Block: Fishing for new talent in the outfield

Latest News

As with every blog post, I'd like to start off with some bulletin points regarding team news and the league at large:

  • All bets are off for the start of the 2020 season as COVID-19 spreads through Japan, particularly Tokyo. 
  • Shinji Tajima will undergo Tommy John surgery, possibly being ruled out for any type of games in 2020. 
  • One unnamed player has been in isolation due to fever with the team keeping tabs. News today was that the player's temperature had returned to normal.
  • Shuhei Takahashi and Toshiki Abe are now sharing the same apartment building. 
  • Having been in isolation with his family, Kazuki Yoshimi has said that he has an even greater appreciation for the family that supports him saying it will give him further inspiration to come back stronger on the field. 
  • Former players Hirokazu Ibata and Motonobu Tanishige were guests on a panel show last month that quizzed them what they would do if they were the Dragons manager this year with some really interesting insights. Worth checking out if you Japanese is up to scratch. Tanishige in particular is quite frank about how much better the team is now than when he left as manager in 2016.

Trading for the future

This is an article that's come to mind from watching former Lotte catcher, Tomoya Satozaki talk about potential trade candidates at each club in the NPB on his YouTube channel. I definitely like some of his ideas, but I doubt his rigor when it comes to his selections. Satozaki selected Shota Ono as a possible trade piece, something I vehemently disagree with, so I want to put forward a few candidates along with some clubs/players that might want to do a deal. 

My main thinking when devising these possible trades is largely going to be based on trades that represent equal value for both sides and will likely be better value than just a lottery ticket for either side. I'm going to suggest a high, medium and low profile trade that could get the Dragons what they need going forward.

Before we get into things, I want to argue a couple of points. There are a number of areas where the Dragons have strength. That is largely on the corners of the infield as well as the pitching staff. Trading from these areas to bolster positions like second-base and the outfield I think is imperative. If you understand this as my thought process, you might see where I want to go with this. 

#1 Nobumasa Fukuda - IF/OF

This is going to be a super unpopular choice, but given the options Chunichi have in outfield and infield, I'd argue Fukuda is someone that could be let go for the right price. While an OPS leader for the team in 2019, Fukuda was not able to solidify a spot in the line-up. Shuhei locked down third-base this year while a number of options exist for left field. While the Dragons lack a power bat, Fukuda is entering his age 32 season and could be a sneaky choice to grab a decent player from any number of clubs across the NPB. As a fan I would hate to see Fukuda go based on the entertainment he gives with batflips alone, but in terms of the team now and going forward he may not have much more to give.

Possible trade partner: Yokohama DeNA Baystars

Fukuda is definitely someone the Baystars would be keen on. A power bat that would replace the outgoing Yoshitomo Tsutsugoh, and someone that could potentially play third when Toshiro Miyazaki has down time with the bat. Fukuda hit .421 in Yokohama in 2019 with 3 homeruns albeit in only 23 PAs which shows he can hit in that stadium. Add to the fact he's a local and it makes sense that the Baystars would be keen to add him to their roster. 

The question is, who do we get out of it? In terms of second base options, the Baystars have a dearth of talent in the middle, but outfield might be more encouraging.

Possible trade pieces: Masayuki Kuwahara, Taiki Sekine, Tomoya Mikami

To be quite honest, this will probably have to be a 2:1 trade except for Kuwahara, to get value for the Dragons. The Baystars are unlikely to give up some of their biggest pieces to get Fukuda particularly as some are much younger. I think a deal involving Masayuki Kuwahara or Taiki Sekine plus a pitcher would be an alright haul for the Dragons. 

Kuwahara would have to be a 1:1 trade, but as a former golden glove outfielder, he fits the bill for the Dragons perfectly. Kuwahara has largely second-fiddle to Kazuki Kamizato in recent times and at a tender 26 years old, Kuwahara still has a sparkling career ahead of him. While he hasn't been great with the bat since 2016, given opportunities to sparkle again he may well make it back to his best. If the Dragons haven't been trying to work on a trade for Kuwahara the last few years, they really should be now. An easy successor to Oshima, trading Fukuda for Kuwahara makes a lot of sense. 

Taiki Sekine could just about be taken for a player of lesser value, but the Gifu-born outfielder put up some of the best results for a Baystar on the farm in 2019. Sekine batted .329 with a .946 OPS to try and force his way into the first team. He also had a very successful winter league season in Mexico. Sekine has been out of favor with the Baystars, but given he can play centre-field and is also a hometown player for the Dragons, he seems like a handy pick-up. At 24 years old,  he lowers the average age of the outfield and gives another possible successor for Yohei Oshima. 

Tomoya Mikami would be the sweetener for this deal for me. Another Gifu-born player, Mikami was a pretty solid part of the Baystars bullpen but has had some issues lately. He had a 5.79 ERA with the top team last year, but I think he still has something left in the tank. He's 31 this year and would give the Dragons more options in the bullpen.

Kuwahara I think has to be the main target here. He's at a good age and has good pedigree as a possible successor. Sekine would be another good pick-up but you could perhaps aim for a slightly less valuable chip to snag him other than that a move for Sekine and Mikami for Fukuda could work too.

Long term however, I think this is the kind of move that could be made particularly if you're happy with plugging up left with an international outfielder for the forseeable future and you're happy with what Takaya Ishikawa and Masami Ishigaki bring as back-ups to Shuhei Takahashi.

#2 Katsuki Matayoshi - RP

Matayoshi has been on the down-slump since the tail-end of the 2018 season. The 2020 pre-season has looked promising for the former all-star, but you can't help but think there's not much more in the tank for Matayoshi. He's certainly a bounce back candidate and his ceiling has high leverage reliever written all over it, but as with all bullpen arms, there are good and bad years. Matayoshi is if nothing else, an experienced campaigner that would slot quite well into a challenging team as someone that could do a job just about anywhere in relief and could make the odd spot start. For the Dragons, Matayoshi is probably not in the equation as a confirmed contributor this year, so there's a bit of room to move him. But should you move him on, you open yourself up for being bitten if he does come back to form. 

Possible trade partner: Giants

Given the lack of depth the Giants have in their pitching, a switch to Tokyo would make sense for Matayoshi. The Giants also have significant depth in outfield and second-base that the Dragons could get someone that helps them more in the long-run. Like with the Baystars, it's going to be hard to find a player of equal value so either a 2:1 trade again or a 1:1 + cash will likely get rid of Matayoshi. Three guys I think that should be on the radar are utility man, Akihiro Wakabayashi and displaced outfielders, Shinnosuke Shigenobu and Shingo Ishikawa

Wakabayashi had a bit of a breakout season last year largely due to an injury to regular second-baseman, Naomi Yoshikawa. However, now with Yoshikawa fit and the rest of team largely settled, Wakabayashi has nowhere he can really play. Outfield appearances would also be stifled by regulars as well as youngsters coming up so a switch to a club where he could get more opportunities makes sense. The Dragons could use depth in the second-base area while any type of utility player is also welcome. At 26 y/o, Wakabayashi still has a number of years where he'd be useful to the team while guys like Abe, Donoue and others fall off. He only hit .239 in NPB last year, but certainly has some room to grow.

Shigenobu can play left or centre-field, is a nimble player that is in probably a similar mold to Oshima without the A+ defense. A common theme to many of my selections will be this ability to play center-field where the Dragons don't have a lot of depth. Despite the large amount of options in the outfield at the Giants, Shigenobu still played a career high 106 games hitting .268 with a relatively unimpressive .643 OPS. The fast running Chiba native would probably find more success in the larger confines of Nagoya Dome and could be a good pick-up. 

Ishikawa moved to the Giants in a trade for Taishi Ota who went to the Fighters. He has been little more than depth for his team over the last 3 years but had a handy .773 OPS over 76 PA in NPB last year. A little bit more potential pop than the other options, Ishikawa is probably more restricted to a corner outfield role.  He hit over .300 on the farm which was the best of any player for the Giants with over 100 PA. Someone that could maybe be a successor for Ryosuke Hirata, or at the worst Atsushi Fujii, Ishikawa would be a handy pick-up. 

Conclusion: It might be hard to pry away Shigenobu or Wakabayashi, but given teh salary outlay, either makes sense. Given the need for depth in outfield and second base for the Dragons, it would make sense to go after Wakabayashi first and foremost as he provides options at both positions however as a successor to Oshima, Shigenobu is likely the best option.

#3 Shota Suzuki - SP

To be honest, if this club can get anything out of a trade for 2013 top pick, Shota Suzuki, they should take it. Suzuki was a bright talent when he was drafted and to date is the only player to turn pro from his high school, St Christopher's. Suzuki looked like he was going to make a keen go of things in 2017 when he won his first game and went 5-5 over the course of the season, it just hasn't clicked for the 6th year pitcher. He's only 25 this season, but injuries, including a common blood circulation issue in his throwing arm, has derailed his development. Suzuki further lost his jersey to Daisuke Matsuzaka last year and failed to make any first team appearances. That being said, he's still a former #1 pick and he's still young which gives the possibility of some upside yet to come. 

Possible trade partner: Nippon Ham Fighters

To put it lightly, the Fighters pitching staff is a shambles. It's possible that even someone like Suzuki, could make an impact of some kind with their team. Who could the Dragons possibly get in return though? The options are limited but someone like Daiki Asama or Yuya Himeno could possibly be a decent pick-up in return.

Asama was billeted with some decent potential as a corner outfielder having a solid rookie season. He has more recently at third base but his stocks have taken hits recently and he only played 13 games last year. Still very young at 23, Asama has plenty of years ahead of him to get better. The Fighters may want to hold on to him just because of that age and possible future ahead of him, but he would fit well into the future plans of the Dragons.

Himeno has a lower profile than Asama, and would probably warrant another piece from the Fighters to get a deal through. Himeno however is a 23 y/o that just has lottery ticket written all over him. A former switch hitter, now just a right-hander, Himeno is a "might as well" pick. He only hit .222 on the farm last year but who knows what happens with some experience and a different environment. 

Conclusion: The only way I see Himeno going in a trade like this is if the Fighters kick in some cash or send someone else as well which seems unlikely. Asama I think would be a good pick-up but the Fighters may well want to hold on to him for depth, that being said, he would provide depth for the Dragons likely in right-field if Hirata misses time due to injury and could well be the long-term successor in that role. 

If I was to pull the trigger on all three trades, I'd have Kuwahara, Wakabayashi and Asama on my team. Kuwahara gives a clear successor to Oshima who can also keep the pace defensively. Wakabayashi gives options at second base over Abe and Dnoue while Asama provides options in right that are probably a bit more interesting than Atsushi Fujii and Issei Endo. 

Trades are very tricky to work in NPB, but I think the options I've provided above are relatively realistic given the relative outlays. Due to time constraints, I've only picked one trade partner for each player, but the reality is likely far more complex than that. Not to mention the individual ties between managers can often be deal breakers in this case, it's hard to see all of these deals coming to fruition even with roots in reality. 

I hope you've enjoyed the thought exercise. Let me know if you have any ideas on who you might trade for to better the team.