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.

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