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Saturday, November 11, 2023

2023 Salary Negotiations

 A few years since I've done this, but I thought I'd mock this up to give us a better idea of the kinds of money that might be available to take on in trades, free agency or the active player draft among other things. Also, generally, just to get a feel for how much money is being spent, such as what is locked up with veterans. I've also added in a few key stats to have a look at while we're here. 

As per previous attempts, I will be making it ¥100 to $1 just to make it easy. It's more like ¥70 to $1 USD, but I'm more looking at a general idea of what the wage budget looks like rather than to make direct comparisons with other leagues. Please also take note that statistics indicated with an asterisk are for players that featured on the farm but not the first team. All others are representative of their performance with the top team. Those that didn't make an appearance at all in either team have nothing recorded (this includes 2023 draftees).

I will attempt to update this regularly as the negotiations are finalised and more details come through. These are the finished negotiations as of the afternoon of the 22nd of December. All deals have been finalised, but the deals for Calixte, Mejia, Feliz and Dickerson haven't been made public yet.

Yudai Ono35SP $3,000,000 - 17013.860.00
Raidel Martinez27RP $2,000,000 - 4846.23111.960.39
Yuya Yanagi29SP $1,480,000 $400,000 24158.14115.972.44
Hideaki Wakui37SP $1,000,000 - 211115137.223.97
Daisuke Sobue36RP $1,000,000 - 4540.1357.813.57
Shinnosuke Ogasawara26SP $930,000 $270,000 25160.27127.513.59
Kento Fujishima25RP $700,000 $240,000 5650.2118.171.07
Hiroto Takahashi21SP $630,000 $280,000 251467118.942.53
Takahiro Matsuba33SP $500,000 - 1157.2143.123.28
Tatsuya Shimizu24RP $500,000 $180,000 5046.23310.413.09
Hiroto Fuku31RP $430,000 -$70,000 2917.2107.642.55
Akiyoshi Katsuno26RP $400,000 $210,000 5049.1528.942.01
Yoshiki Sunada28RP $380,000 -$120,000 1813.2017.904.61
Shinji Tajima33RP $350,000 - 3229.2129.404.85
Yugo Umeno24RP $280,000 -$70,000 ------
Sho Iwasaki34RP $280,000 - - - - - - -
Koki Saito26RP $230,000 $100,000 3124.2208.760.73
Koji Fukutani32SW $200,000 -$20,000 1454346.005.17
Shinya Matsuyama23RP $175,000 $133,000 3635.11112.741.27
Akira Neo23SP $160,000 -$25,000 212.2002.840.71
Sho Kusaka22SP $160,000 - - - - - - -
Reia Nakachi22SP $150,000 -$10,000 943.1257.684.98
Yuki Hashimoto25RP $120,000 $10,000 1315.1105.281.17
Hiroto Mori25RP $115,000 -$30,000 *33*33*2*4*7.09*5.73
Toshiya Okada31RP $100,000 -$90,000 - - - - - -
Kodai Umetsu27SP $100,000 $5,000 319115.210.95
Frank Alvarez24SW $100,000 - *17*22.2*2*3*5.56*6.75
Kotaro Ueda21SW $85,700 -$4,700 1320006.754.50
Taisei Ishimori26RP $78,000 -$12,000 *22*19.2*0*1*9.61*10.53
Shota Habu22RP $72,000 - - - - - - -
Ryuma Kato24RP $72,000 - - - - - - -
Konosuke Fukuda18SP $60,000 - - - - - - -
Akio Moriyama18SP $60,000 - *4*23*0*1*2.74*3.13
Shotaro Fukushima21RP $57,500 -$1,000 43.1005.4013.50
Tsubasa Kato20RP $51,500 -$3,500 *8*6*0*1*6.00*12.00
Kenshin Kakigoshi23SP $51,400 -$1,100 *14*84*3*5*3.00*4.39

Dayan Viciedo34IF $3,760,000 -910.2446230.6410
Sho Nakata34IF $3,000,000 -------
Yohei Oshima38OF $2,500,000 -1300.2890230.6506
Yuki Okabayashi21OF $730,000 $330,000 1430.2793310.68812
Takuya Kinoshita32C $680,000 - 890.2375260.6580
Shuhei Takahashi29IF $675,000 - 860.2150140.5241
Seiya Hosokawa25OF $450,000 $351,000 1400.25324780.7800
Shingo Usami30C $410,000 $110,000 690.2823140.6940
Takaya Ishikawa22IF $300,000 $150,000 1210.24213450.6760
Shohei Kato32OF $230,000 - 590.225040.5042
Shunta Goto30OF $210,000 - 520.182060.5100
Seiji Uebayashi28OF $200,000 -------
Hiroyuki Nakajima41IF $200,000 -------
Ryuku20IF $190,000 $55,000 1140.1871180.4562
Kaito Muramatsu22IF $170,000 $50,000 980.2071200.4921
Yasuhiro Yamamoto30IF $160,000 -------
Takuma Kato31C $150,000 -$40,000 100.000000.0000
Hiroki Fukunaga26IF $144,000 $72,000 970.2412150.6122
Seiji Kawagoe30OF $137,500 -$2,500 180.212010.5200
Kosuke Ukai24OF $135,000 -$15,000 410.143350.4231
Kenta Bright24OF $135,000 -$5,000 330.241040.6332
Kota Ishibashi23C $125,000 $30,000 390.257290.6960
Keishi Tsuda21IF $120,000 -------
Carlos Monier22OF $100,000 -------
Cristian Rodriguez21IF $100,000 -------
Masami Ishigaki25IF $95,000 -$5,000 220.087000.2470
Rintaro Tsujimoto22IF $90,000 -------
Hironori Miyoshi26OF $86,000 -$4,000 300.154000.5433
Yutaro Itayama29IF/OF $85,000 -------
Shonosuke Hama23IF $67,300 -$4,700 *88*0.205*1*13*0.5156
Yuma Fukumoto24IF/OF $67,000 -$5,000 *58*0.321*2*21*0.7630
Mikiya Tanaka22IF $65,500 -$6,500 *8*0.133*0*0*0.267*1
Taisei Miya20C $64,000 $4,000 60.286000.5710
Rynosuke Yamaasa19C $61,000 $1,000 70.000000.0000
Mao Hoshino19IF $54,000 - *46*.205*0*3*0.567*2
Seishu Higuchi24IF $47,600 $5,600 70.000010.0000
Goriki Oda23OF $30,000 -------
Koki Hiwatari19C $30,000 -------
Rii Kawakami22OF $30,000 -------
Alex Dickerson33OF TBA -------
Orlando Calixte31IFTBATBA470.2335130.6390

Some notes. Shinji Tajima and Yudai Ono are in the final year of multi-year deals they signed earlier on. Ono is the team's top earning pitcher, and top overall earner after Dayan Viciedo. Once those two deals come off the books next year, that will free up a lot of the wage budget.

Here's a list of those that left and an indication of what money has been theoretically re-added to the wage budget. Of course, a lot of this will be chewed up by raises for other players this year. 

Aristides Aquino-$1,700,000
Yariel Rodriguez-$600,000
Keisuke Tanimoto-$420,000
Nobumasa Fukuda-$350,000
Zoilo Almonte-$300,000
Naomichi Donoue-$290,000
Shota Ono-$220,000
Hayato Mizowaki-$150,000
Hiroshi Suzuki-$135,000
Yuichiro Okano-$85,000
Kosuke Ito-$72,000
Hiroki Matsuda-$30,000

In terms of overall spend, this is a little more than what the Dragons have spent last year. But what is interesting, is that since Tatsunami took over, after his first year anyway, wages have gone from $24.7M in 2020, to what I now calculate as $32.1M in 2024. That's not even counting the probably 2ish million likely going to Calixte, Feliz, Dickerson and Mejia. This is a huge amount of money for this team to be spending. The team hasn't seen this kind of spending since the 2012 season that was still brimming with veterans from the Dragons golden era. The good thing here, is that some of this money will move off the books in 2025 with Viciedo's deal ending and with possibly a Yohei Oshima retirement at some point. Even Sho Nakata's deal is only two years so the commitment isn't that long for any of the high earners. The Dragons may also look to flip Shuhei Takahashi for something on the trade market to reduce their wage budget. 

Tuesday, November 7, 2023

Off-season plan: Trades, Active-player draft, FA and foreign signings.

 I am working on a draft piece, but I thought I'd address this first. Keiichi Wakaasa of CBC Sports talked a little bit about how the roster is shaping up and I thought I'd respond with my own thoughts about what the team should do. After the draft and a re-shuffling of players to development contracts, the Dragons currently have 60 players on their active roster. They have 10 spots that can be used to promote from within or sign from without. As Wakaasa has mentioned, the team had 65 spots taken up at opening day in 2023 and it would stand to reason that the team would look to maintain this or be one more or less. But it's here I want to take the specification with what we're working with. Secondly, Wakaasa also points out the team are overflowing with pitchers. They have 33 on the active roster now so trading them or putting them out for the active player draft might well be an option. This is what we have, what then do we need. 

Depth Chart

A quick look over the organisational depth chart tells us a few things but lets look at each area. I've broken these up into starting pitching, catchers, and then each other position. I haven't bothered to deal with relievers because, well, there's a lot of them and any pitcher can be a reliever, not to mention the spectrum of possibility for a good season for a reliever is quite wide and influenced by a number of factors.

Firstly, starting pitching:

Hiroto Takahashi
Yudai Ono
Hideaki Wakui
Shinnosuke Ogasawara
Yuya Yanagi
Humberto Mejia
Kodai Umetsu
Akira Neo
Hiroshi Suzuki
Reia Nakachi
Takahiro Matsuba
Sho Kusaka
Kotaro Ueda
Akio Moriyama
Konosuke Fukuda
Yuki Matsukihira

I've broken these up into three groups. The first, is what I'd expect to see for most of the 2024 season and probably on opening day. The second group would be your 'first-up' guys while the third group would be a developing group that may not quite be ready to just slot in. Unsurprisingly perhaps, this is an area of great strength for the team. The top six starters are largely excellent, and maintaining Mejia really helps with depth. Umetsu coming back and Neo settling into his new role means that depth has developed here in the past 9 months or so. Nakachi of course is a great back-up and will see some innings while Matsuba is at the lower-end of this scale having not performed overly well last year. Hiroshi Suzuki also looks primed to see some back of the rotation starts. 

With all that said and done, I don't think there's any particular need here for the Dragons. There's plenty of depth to service both the top-team and the farm, while Yuki Matsukihira, currently on a development deal, also fills out some of the innings required in 2-gun. This means there's 17 other pitchers on the main roster (plus some development guys) that can throw innings in relief. 

Team Need: Nil

Takuya Kinoshita
Kota Ishibashi
Shingo Usami
Takuma Kato
Ryunosuke Yamaasa
Taisei Miya

The team strengthened mid-season with the addition of Shingo Usami to the catching mix. Now with Shota Ono retired, he becomes the veteran back-up. Kota Ishibashi should be pushing for the starting mask now; his confidence will be up having been selected for the U-23 Samurai Japan team. Kato is your veteran back-up while Yamaasa and Miya are the other young-guns. Miya has been seeing some time around the field to test his utility, but is still seen largely as a catching prospect. The Dragons also brought in Toki Hiwatari in the development draft, so seven catchers in total. This will probably be enough to catch bullpen sessions and spread the workload. The team might want to think about getting another guy, but it's not a major area of need.

Team Need: Negligible

Dayan Viciedo
Seiya Hosokawa
Shingo Usami
Takaya Ishikawa

Big question marks here. Viciedo did okay down the stretch but he's not been at his best since Tatsunami took over. He removed the shackles of his 'foreign player' tag in 2024, meaning he won't count toward the limit on the game-day roster. But, well, what else do you have? Hosokawa is the Dragons primary right-fielder and probably best back-up at first-base. Ishikawa and Usami have played on first in 2023 but it's clear that Ishikawa has higher value to the team sitting on third. With Nobumasa Fukuda retiring, the team have a real dearth of organisational depth at first-base, which is worrying. Hiroki Fukunaga may emerge as an option however. This is certainly a major area that needs to be addressed in the off-season if it can be. 

Team Need: Strong

Mikiya Tanaka
Hiroki Fukunaga
Kaito Muramatsu
Seishu Higuchi
Masami Ishigaki
Orlando Calixte

In 2023, like short-stop, second was a tumultuous turnover of players. Kaito Muramatsu was meant to start here but Mikiya Tanaka's injury meant that he ended up sharing time between short and second. Fukunaga hit well in the first half but faded while Seishi Higuchi emerged as an option halfway through the season. Orlando Calixte played here as well, but seemed to slide into short-stop down the stretch. It's a bit of a mess here but you'd think Mikiya Tanaka would probably be the most likely option at this stage, while Fukunaga could potentially play there again. Muramatsu may also be in the running but it depends on who wins the job at short. Messy, but there are options here. 

Team Need: Roll the dice with what you have

Orlando Calixte
Kaito Muramatsu
Keishi Tsuda
Rintaro Tsujimoto

The team probably did their best to increase competition at short with addition of Keishi Tsuda and Rintaro Tsujimoto. Whether they'll be immediately up to speed or not is another question. Ryuku is the incumbent and put up some incredible defensive numbers beating out Lions infield maestro, Sosuke Genda in UZR this year. The bat however just isn't there. He hit around the .200 mark with very little power. Calixte saw some time here down the stretch as previously mentioned, but was by no means a superstar. Very up for grabs, but the team have in-house options they'll be experimenting with. 

Team Need: Roll the dice with what you have

Takaya Ishikawa
Shuhei Takahashi
Orlando Calixte
Hiroki Fukunaga
Masami Ishigaki

Shuhei Takahashi is a quality back-up to have behind Ishikawa. Shuhei is former golden glove winner and has been a .300 hitter at times. Calixte's utility means he saw innings here while Fukunaga too was tried at third. There's not major depth here, but I personally wouldn't be looking to undercut this by, say, potentially offering Shuhei up in the active player draft. Fine as-is but the team will need to look for depth here in the near future.

Team Need: Low

Yuki Okabayashi
Yohei Oshima
Kenta Bright
Hironori Miyoshi
Shohei Kato
Shunta Goto

Similar to third-base, when you have a quality back-up like Oshima, I don't think you have to worry too much. Okabayashi played a full-season of games in 2023 anyway, so you could piece together a few games here and there with options available. Kenta Bright was getting some reps on the farm in centre-field so he's a decent option there while Hironori Miyoshi, Kato and Goto round out your other 'probably-won't-hit-but-could-defend' guys. 

Team Need: Low

Seiya Hosokawa
Yuki Okabayashi
Kenta Bright
Hironori Miyoshi
Shohei Kato

Right-field is where things start to get a bit more stretched. Bright's emergence does mean there's a good back-up behind Hosokawa if he goes down, but there's not a whole lot else to come after that. Ukai is another potential option I've left out here because he's been playing mostly in left, but theoretically you could have him in right in a pinch. Miyoshi and Kato won't help your offense very much but are both decent athletes. Probably worth adding someone here if you can. 

Team Need: Moderate

Yohei Oshima
Kenta Bright
Kosuke Ukai
Seiji Kawagoe
Hironori Miyoshi
Shunta Goto

Left field has a few more options. Ukai and Kawagoe are decent options for left-field if Bright has to play every other-day in a different position. Miyoshi and Goto are again, not great back-ups but they're good enough to be place-holders. If they're however starting 50 games for you in left field, the season has probably not gone particularly well. There's probably enough here, but you might want to add someone.

Team Need: Low-to-moderate

Regarding the outfield, I would like to just make one comment as a whole, there could be need just for extra bodies to ensure coverage between the two teams. Including development players there are only 11 outfielders in the organisation (12 if you want to count Yuma Fukumoto) which is on the low side if you start having injuries. I could envision the team picking up an outfielder in the active player draft, or as a foreign signing. You might even see a scrap-heap claim to help with depth. 

The Plan

So with all this in mind, here is how I see organisation need:

First base: Strong
Corner Oufield: Moderate
Third base: Low
Catcher: Low

These are our three areas where you could or should pick up 3-4 players to increase coverage. You might want to throw in another reliever type just to increase the mix although I don't think it's all that necessary. 

Without much further ado, I will outline my plan for addressing these weaknesses. 

First base

Key Targets: Sho Nakata, Hotaru Yamakawa

Although Nakata and Yamakawa are not great human beings, they would fulfill a great organisational need for the Dragons. They would both demand multi-year, $2-2.5M or so a year contracts, but the difference between these two and a foreign slugger for example is, they know the league and have solid track records. I'm by no means advocating what these players have done in their time off the field, but they would both be excellent additions on it. If you also add into the fact that Viciedo's deal is up next year, maybe you then take-on either of these two with a similar deal and just avoid an Aquino like splash. Had Aquino succeeded, the team would have opened their cheque-book to lock him down, so I don't see the difference is signing someone like Nakata and Yamakawa to a similar deal for 2024 and beyond. When Viciedo clears the books at the end of 2024, you can then pursue another high quality international signing to fold into the team. While I know the Dragons generally avoid the free agent market like the plague, this would be a prudent capture if Tatsunami truly wants to win something this year or at least elongate his tenure with a playoff run. Given what has happened with the team so far and the almost blind trust the organisations seems to have in their manager, the team are probably already kicking tires on these two.

I personally would probably prefer Nakata who has shown success in the Central League and has a longer track record, but Yamakawa's relative youth also puts forward an interesting dilemma. Affordability will likely be key and Yamakawa is particular might be available for the right price given the recency of his controversy.

Corner outfield

Key Targets: Seiji Uebayashi (Senryokugai), Luis Liberato (AAA Padres), Taishi Kusumoto (Baystars), Kazuki Tanaka (Eagles), Kazuki Kamizato (Baystars), Daiki Asama (Fighters)

I'd probably look to take two of these, maybe three if you were greedy. Seji Uebayashi was released by the Hawks recently and would probably be a step above many of the current back-ups. He would certainly fill out depth in right-field and has a killer arm. Once a key part of the Hawks line-up, injuries have derailed him somewhat, but he'd definitely be worth taking a flyer on. Only 28 years old and certainly has upside that I think the Dragons could and should gamble on. The other names I have listed are likely those that would be available for a trade or in the active player draft. Kamizato, Tanaka and Asama stand out for me. All three can play the all over the outfield. Kamizato has fallen out of favour with Daisuke Miura, but was a favourite of Alex Ramirez, has some pop and is a decent defender. Tanaka was a rookie of the year not too long ago and certainly has something I think could be tapped into while Asama is similarly one that has had potential, but hasn't quite busted through. I've also listed Padres AAA outfielder Luis Liberato here as a possible pick-up. At present, organisational depth for the Padres, he will be 28 by the end of the year and is currently hitting very well in the Dominican Winter League. If he's interested, I'd certainly be looking to pursue him. He can play across the outfield and has good bat-to-ball skills and power. Akinori Otsuka, who will be scouting in the DR this off-season has said he'll be looking for a hitter with good contact skills and I think Liberato could be that guy. He has a career 24% K-rate in AAA which is average but an 11% walk-rate which is a bit above average. In addition to a .800+ OPS over the last two seasons, he might be a prudent pick-up. Availability however is the main question.

My first preference here would be to take Uebayashi on a free, Liberato on a $700k or so a year deal and maybe aim for Kamizato, Asama or Tanaka in the active-player draft or through trades.

Corner Infield/ Utility

Key Targets: Akihiro Wakabayashi (Giants), Richard Sunagawa (Hawks)

There could be a few more additions you could make here but I've settled on two that I'd really like. Akihiro Wakabayashi offers significant utility. He has played almost every position for the Giants at some point in his career bar catcher. Fast and versatile, he would give the Dragons options beyond what someone like Shohei Kato, Shunta Goto or Hiroki Fukunaga for example could offer. Richard Sunagawa however is probably the tastiest of the options available on the trade/active-player draft market. With prodigious power, Sunagawa would be a great way to increase the stocks of corner infielders for the Dragons. If you were to acquire him in a trade before the active-player draft for example, the team might then be able to put up Shuhei Takahashi to shed a little pay-roll. Sunagawa hit 19 homers with an .885 OPS in the Western League this season however a .225 average is likely to turn off some suitors. I would however certainly roll the dice with him. 

If you're not going to pursue someone like Nakata or Yamakawa in the off-season, Sunagawa offers a cut-price option. The Hawks recently traded away two of their arms to the Giants for Adam Walker meaning they might be open to replenishing their stocks a little. The Dragons have plenty of pitching, so there could be an opening here to get in before the lottery of the active-player draft. He will still have his fair share of suitors. Not many farm-hands hit double-digit homeruns in the Western League, let alone 19. Sheesh.


Key Targets: Tomoya Kakinuma (Marines), Shosei Nakamura (Carp)

If the team really wants another catcher, which is of course completely possible as they lost Yuya Gunji mid-season and Shota Ono to retirement, they could pursue a veteran like Tomoya Kakinuma from the Marines or another young-gun with upside like Shosei Nakamura from the Carp. Nakamura was actually the team's first choice to take with the #1 pick in 2017 after which they ended with Hiroshi Suzuki. Nakamura has not quite developed the way the Carp had hoped, and this could be a good name to throw into the mix. It would be an option that kind of defeats the purpose of the active-player draft as he's no more likely to play for the Dragons as he is for the Carp at this stage of his career. Kakinuma however is 30 now and could be a solid back-up. I'd rate him a step above Takuma Kato for example but probably not as good as Shingo Usami. There are a number of other catchers in a similar position who could benefit from moving teams, but Kakinuma is one that could fulfill need for organisational depth should they want it while Nakamura would be an interesting option, but likely not a particularly profitable move for the player himself at this stage of his career.

Summary of Findings

The team realistically have five to six free spots but it's likely many of the moves I've suggested would end up with someone leaving. In terms of pitching, the Dragons have a number of arms that have some upside that could end up being trade-bait or given up in the active player draft. How the draft plays out this year as well will be curious. Last year's draft was a single round that ended with the Dragons taking Seiya Hosokawa, but it's possible there could be multiple rounds this year with teams being a bit more adventurous the second year around. I certainly would advocate for the Dragons trying to mix it up to get players that will fulfill areas of depth. 

In an ideal world I would aim to get Hotaru Yamakawa (FA), Seiji Uebayashi (FA), Luis Liberato (FA), Daiki Asama (Trade/AP Draft) and Richard Sunagawa (Trade/AP Draft).

Uebayashi in my mind is a must get. He might well draw competition for his signature, but the price is right and he's just sitting there. Go and get him. Yamakawa would take will from the organisation, but I'd certainly offer up a 3+ year deal at about $1.5-$2M a season, it's possible that Yamakawa might even take a prove-it kind of 2-year deal at a lower AAV given how his reputation has been damaged by sexual assault allegations. Asama I feel is a decent get as he'll add depth with a bit of upside but probably won't have immediate expectations of needing to start games, while Sunagawa would be first-man up at 1st or 3rd base should Ishikawa or, if you don't get Yamakawa, Viciedo goes down or is just bad. I don't see catcher as particularly necessary. The team rolled with 7 catchers after Gunji was traded and they're at the same amount now. Ono is now the 2-gun battery coach, but could very well still catch bullpens. Kohei Oda with the first-team was also pretty active in this regard last season. And of course, the team have a number of full-time bullpen catchers. 

A couple more extrapolations on this, if you sign Uebayashi you could potentially allow for Hosokawa to play more first-base, which is probably a better place for him defensively, this may also lessen the need to sign Yamakawa or even Sunagawa for that matter. Liberato similarly would give you the outfield depth to play with the defensive configuration of the team. Liberato could be your regular left-fielder with Okabayashi through the centre and Uebayashi in right. Hosokawa could then play first in place of Viciedo who can just drop to the bench. The only negative about signing Uebayashi would be potentially blocking Kenta Bright, but once again, if your matra is "win now" you might as well sign the seasoned veteran. Uebayashi has been a frequent favourite trade target for the Dragons faithful, but there are yet any reports over who is moving in for him of if the Dragons are keen.

I think what I've suggested above as a starting eight is well within the realms of possibility with only Liberato being the only main question-mark as to whether or not he'd want a move or if the Padres would let him go. Whether or not the Dragons take a minor reputation hit with signing Yamakawa would be a question, whether or not they'd want to pay him is another, so I haven't included him in this particular theoretical. The Dragons appear to have been early to move to get in contact with Yamakawa, but it seems now that the Softbank Hawks are equally interested in his services.

Overall, this kind of shake-up should help improve the team. Hosokawa is not a good defender in right, whereas someone like Uebayashi is a, well, incomparable. Tsuchida is still a question mark offensively, but he's the best of the defensive options at short. Mikiya Tanaka I feel has the greatest upside at second with his very quick feet and contact skills. The rest I feel more or less explains itself. On the bench, I would probably have Oshima, Calixte, Sungawa, Muramatsu, Viciedo, Bright and Ishibashi with all those guys getting a number of games throughout the season based on match-ups, form, and resting players.