Saturday, December 29, 2012

Wayne Graczyk on the State of the Dragons

Wayne Graczyk of the The Japan Times did a nice article on the Dragons recently titled Aging Dragons Have Number of Question Marks for 2013.  In the piece Graczyk discusses the obstacles Chunichi will have to overcome in order to keep their steak of post-season appearances going.  Among the obstacles he brings up are the age of manager Morimichi Takagi, players Masa Yamamoto, Takeshi Yamasaki, Motonobu Tanishige and others.  He also discusses the migration of the Dragons' established foreign players to other teams.  Finally he mentions that 2013 will be a year of transition as it has already been announced that it will likely be Takagi's last year as manager and Graczyk predicts that Mr. Dragons, Kazuyoshi Tatsunami, will become the manager in 2014.

I think Graczyk overstates the importance of contributions from Yamamoto and Yamasaki.  They provide some valuable depth, but Chunichi didn't need to rely on them much last year and shouldn't plan to do so this year, any contributions they give should be considered a bonus.  Tanishige, Wada, Ibata and Morino are, however, a different story.  The Dragons need Tanishige's presence and experience behind the plate, but they need him to be at least near average offensively, because their lineup doesn't project to be good enough to carry him.  Wada and Ibata both had very good years in 2012, but it's definitely uncertain whether they can repeat those performances again at their age.  Morino is not as old as the others, but he's been playing like he's been on the down-side of his career the last two seasons.  Frankly, Chunichi will need more from him offensively this year, and it's unclear if they will get it.

2013 will depend a lot on how the Dragons' younger players perform as much as on how the older ones do.  Graczyk mentions that Chunichi has some good young arms, without going into detail about who they are.  He also doesn't mention top infield prospect Shuhei Takahashi, who is likely to have an impact.  If young starters Junki Ito and Yudai Ohno perform well Chunichi should have a formidable rotation with them, Kaz Yoshimi, Kenshin Kawakami, Soma Yamauchi, Shinji Iwata and Kenichi Nakata.  The offense could get a big boost from S. Takahashi, who could take over at third base, and other younger players Takehiro and Naomichi Donoue, and Ryosuke Hirata.  All of those guys have shown promise at times.  The Dragons will need Yohei Ohshima to keep playing at a high level as well, and younger players Takuya Asao and Shinji Tajima will need to hold down the bullpen.

As for the foreign roster, Chunichi lost a lot of production this offseason with Blanco, Soto and Sosa signing elsewhere.  Replacing all of them in one offseason may not go well, but it's hard to say.  Foreign signings are always a crap shoot.

I'm interested to see how Tatsunami will do as manager, but for this year I don't have any concerns with whether Takagi can do the job.  He did a commendable job last year getting Chunichi to the brink of the Japan Series despite being completely under-manned for the playoffs.  So while Graczyk is very right in stating that Chunichi does have a lot of question marks; there are also a lot of good reasons why they should be in the top half of the Central League once again in 2013.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Mizuno Speed Trainer 4

 I'm generally a fan of Mizuno shoes and products, but wanted to pass along my dissapointment with the Mizuno Speed Trainer 4's.  I bought a pair of the G3 Speed Trainers back in around 2008 and they are still in good shape even though they've been used a lot.  I was excited to buy the 4's and ordered a pair recently from an online baseball supplies store.  They look great in the pictures, but for some reason they only ever show one side.  When I got my pair I realized why.  They don't have a full-sized, stiched on logo like on the outside.  The inside of the shoe is basically blank with a little "painted-on" logo, maybe an inch by inch in size.  The material of the shoe also seemed kind of cheap and they didn't feel very comfortable when I put them on.  They were very, very light in weight, so I'll give them that, but overall they seem pretty cheap and chintzy, not a very good effort from Mizuno. I exchanged the pair I had bought for a new BBCOR bat, so I haven't really field tested them, but I don't recommend them unless they are real cheap.  Had I seen them in the store, rather than online, I would not have bought them.

Here's my old pair of the G3 version and a pair of practice/turf shoes I got in Japan.  I'm very happy with both of these.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Chunichi signs Daniel Cabrera

Earlier this week the Dragons signed former MLB pitcher Daniel Cabrera to a one-year contract for not a lot of money, reportedly $450,000 US plus a signing bonus of $200,000 US.  Cabrera last appeared in the majors in 2009 and spent last year at AAA.  He's a big dude, 6' 7" and 225 lbs, and a power pitcher who at least in the past could throw in the upper 90's MPH without much effort.  I remember him from his time with the Baltimore Orioles.  He's always been considered a project, a guy with the tools to be successful, but who still needed to refine his game.  The Orioles eventually gave up on waiting for him overcome his inconsistancy and control problems and let him go after the 2008 season.  He's been bouncing around the minors with moderate success since then. 

There isn't much risk with this move for Chunichi, but it is sort of a questionable move to sign him at all.  Over 11 years of professional baseball, Cabrera has yet to gain control over his arsenal of pitches, so it's hard to believe that is something that will change this year.  He may show some flashes of dominance, he should be able to overpower most NPB hitters, he was even able to do so in MLB, but overall he's never been consistent enough to relied upon when it matters and that's what NPB teams expect from their foreign players.  I wish him the best in his Dragons career, but I won't be expecting a lot from him as a pitcher and I definitely won't be expecting anything from him as a hitter, he's never recorded a hit in his entire professional career.  His batting skills can be witnessed in this video.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Foreign Players Roster Reload

The Dragons look like they have decided to start over with their foreign players roster by allowing Tony Blanco, Enyelbert Soto and Jorge Sosa to become free agents last week.  Chunichi had already cut Maximo Nelson loose prior to that.  All of the players listed were major contributors to the team, but Blanco, Soto and Nelson had flaws as well.  Jorge Sosa was excellent in his sole season with the Dragons but it's been reported that he was interested in moving on and wasn't entirely pleased with his role last year.  Nelson wasn't able to help the team much last year due to injury, he pitched only 11+ innings, and it's unclear when he will be healthy again, so it's understandable why the Dragons let him go.  Soto has been a top-of-the-rotation starter when he's been healthy, but he hasn't been healthy all that often, including during the last two postseasons.  Tony Blanco has had injury problems as well, but he's played well, and has provided the only true power bat in Chunichi's lineup the last couple years.  On the negative side Blanco has also struck out quite a bit and his production has gone down since his first year, mainly due to injuries.  I'd would have liked for Chunichi to have re-signed Soto and Blanco and they still might, but at this point it's looking unlikely.

With Blanco, Soto, Sosa and Nelson out of the picture Chunichi has some work to do this offseason.  Their main holes are first base, third base and the outfield.  It also never hurts to have more pitching, as was evidenced at the end of last season when nearly the entire rotation went down to injury.  Looking at available free agents (Gen posted a list on yakyubaka) there aren't a lot of impact players available.  Kosuke Fukudome isn't on the list but is available though it's likely he'll have better offers.  I could dream about Ichiro and Daisuke Matsuzaka joining Chunichi, but there's about a 0.001% chance of that happening.  Each should find a MLB team to give them a chance, plus I'm not sure exactly how much either of them would help.

So far Chunichi has signed Hector Luna and "Big Bad" Brad Bergesen.  Both players have multiple seasons of MLB experience and I think should be good pick-ups.  Luna has played all over the field, both infield and outfield, but he hasn't shown a ton of pop, so I think he would be suited well for 2nd, some 3rd and possibly RF.  He's listed as 6'1" and 190 pounds, but he looks at a little heavier in his more recent pictures.  I'm hoping he can still be useful in multiple positions, because if they mean for him to be strictly a first-baseman things may not go well.  Brad Bergesen is a 27-year old right-handed pitcher formerly of the Baltimore Orioles and Arizona Diamondbacks.  He's not really a hard thrower, which is a bit unusual for imports, but he's had some success as a major leaguer so he should have a good chance in the NPB.  Luna and Bergesen join Victor Diaz, the only import holdover from last year as Sang-Hoon Song was moved to Ikusei status, and so Chunichi still has some available slots to fill.  They absolutely need to bring in a slugging first-baseman who can battle with Luna, Diaz and Masahiko Morino for time there.  Hopefully Shuhei Takahashi will take over at third, but Luna and obviously Morino are options there as well.  I'd like to see the Dragons pick up another pitcher that's capable of starting as well as being a relief option.  I feel good about Chunichi's young starters and the bullpen, even if Iwase can't return to form, but it would be good to get someone, along with Bergesen, that can fill either spot depending on what is needed.

The offseason is still young, but with some of the bigger names having already signed, it will be interesting to see what the Dragons come up with over the next month or two.