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Baseball Analysis Home   Gary Garland / the japanese insider

January 17, 2002

20 Teams Interested in Hideki Matsui?

Earlier this week, Atlanta Braves Far East scout Hiroyuki Ohya seemed to be indicating that the team he works for would be interested in trying to sign Yomiuri Giants centerfielder Hideki Matsui after the 2001 Central League batting champ becomes a free agent at the conclusion of the coming season.

Moreover, in talking over the matter with Ohya, the Japanese press has the idea that as many as 20 MLB clubs may pursue Matsui. However, the difficulty now for Atlanta is that they just fleeced the Dodgers for Gary Sheffield, so Ohya's statements could now be inoperative unless they move Sheffield back to the infield, possibly at first base, one would surmise.

"He has the batspeed to hit 40 homers," Ohya offered, showing no doubt about the

Ishikawa Prefecture-born lefty hitter's potential. While it's hard to know if Ohya is violating tampering rules by talking like this, he is hardly the first individual connected with MLB to drool over Matsui's explosive bat.

But even if the likes of Bucky Showalter have called him an impact player, any kind of bidding war could quickly winnow out the field for his services. Indeed, the New York

Yankees, who Matsui has expressed an interest in, would no doubt get in on a Matsui recruitment. Or the San Francisco Giants, another nine Matsui has expressed admiration for, could be looking to end up with a Bonds-Sanders-Matsui threesome, a very potent combination to be sure, but also one riddled with questions such as Bonds age, Sanders injury history and Matsui's ability to play defensively and hit off speed pitches. And, ironically, Matsui would be relegating a fellow Japanese, Tsuyoshi Shinjo, to the bench or to a position with another team.

In addition, there has been talk of a "rental isseki, " or "rental player move," for Matsui, where he would play for three to five years in MLB and then return to Tokyo and Yomiuri.

In any event, one side benefit to the Ichiro and Ishii postings is that it has allowed teams to add elite players for relatively cheap. That would all go out the window, though, if the bidding is hotly contested in the Matsui case. The wheeling and dealing over this should prove to be interesting for both fantasy leaguers and avid baseball junkies alike, so stay tuned.

Red Sox Acquire Side-Wheeling Japanese Righthander

Ryo Kumagai , a 22 year old sidearm righty for Tohoku Fukushi University in Sendai, Japan, an institution that counts among its alumni one Kazuhiro Sasaki of the Seattle Mariners, signed on the dotted line with Boston scouting head Ray Poitevant and scout Junji Kodama in attendance at the family's home in Miyagi Prefecture..

During his first year at Tohoku Fukushi University, Kumagai went 41 straight scoreless innings during the fall segment of the university's season. And in 44 total innings between the spring and fall seasons, allowed just two runs (0.41 ERA). The Yokohama Bay Stars were giving him a strong look for the November 2002 draft. In the 2001 spring season, he went 23 straight innings without giving up an earned run.

A Red Sox scout reportedly came across Kumagai during that spring season and the club decided to sign him after seeing him pitch for his team on a road trip to Hawaii at the Hawaii International Baseball Tournament in August, where he was clocked at a high of 93mph, though the Japan Times avers that he is more likely to be in the 91mph range. At that tournament, Kumagai threw 9.1 innings over four appearances without allowing a run, enabling Tohoku Fukushi to win it all.

According to some amateur baseball sites in Japan, Kumagai's weakness is that he will on occasion lose his release point and his control along with it. So that may be the key to the viability of his MLB career, maintaining a consistent release point.

Aside from the fastball, which he will also tail in to the outer half of the plate ala Shigetoshi Hasegawa, he throws a reportedly very nasty sinker, a curve, and a slider

This past November, Kumagai formally informed his university manager, Yoshihiro Itoh (56), that he was going to turn pro. "I've always wanted to play baseball professionally in Japan," Yomiuri quotes Kumagai, "but suddenly when the chance to sign with a major league club came up I don't know how I felt about it." For his services, Kumagai pockets a $450,000 signing bonus, though his yearly salary remains undisclosed and he has a provision in his contract that mandates he be allowed to compete with the major league club during spring training. "Having a new signee immediately participate in Spring Training is a first in my 42 years of baseball. Only a rare type of player can do that in the majors. We like his chances," Poitevant remarked.

In the past, the Red Sox signed Tenri High School outfielder Kenichiro Kawabata in 1997, while last year the Pades signed a Sendai Commerical High School pitcher named Yoshida. In 1998, the Cubs signed catcher Takaaki Kato out of Keio University. For his part, Kumagai says, "If I'm promoted to the majors, I would like to face off against my senpai (his predecessor at university) Sasaki. I will also put Ichiro away." He told Sports Nippon that his family is firmly behind his decision to go to the states.

Kumagai was born on August 22, 1979 in Kita Ward, Tokyo. He attended Shibura Commercial Greater High School there before going to Tohoku Fukushi. He was worked out last spring as a candidate for the 2004 Japanese olympic baseball squad. He is 6' and 170 pounds, born to father Yukio, mother Wakako and has three siblings. All of the above is from the Yomiuri Shimbun, Nikkan Sports, the Kahoku Shimbun and college baseball related websites in Japan. A fan has shot some video of Kumagai and posted it at: (file size is 200k) for the curious..

Web Story of the Day

For those of you interested in the issue of viability of new stadiums, by all means take a few minutes out for another typically excellent Marty Kuehnert piece in the Japan Times. Toronto denizens may especially be interested while this article also talks about why the home of the Daiei Hawks, Fukuoka Dome, could be termed a white elephant:

Whither Japanese Baseball?

In the midst of doing research on the net for an article I'm planning to have done sometime this weekend, I came across a piece in the Japanese weekly Aera about what may ultimately happen to Japanese pro baseball if there is a flood of players leaving Japan for the big leagues, positing that the Japanese pro leagues will become little more than a minor league, the changes wrought by the ongoing globalization of major league baseball.

In fact, the piece ponders, it could be that the only true elite level team that will remain standing will be the Yomiuri Giants, who are the only organization big enough and rich enough to compete with MLB in wealth, popularity and prestige. Yomiuri is visualised as becoming an MLB franchise, with one of the other Japanese pro teams acting as a Giants minor league affiliate. The other Japanese pro teams would either become affiliates themselves of other MLB entities or fade away into history.

Of course, there is a technological obstacle to adding a Japanese team to MLB: transportation. To get past this, the author, a gentleman named Ohta (I hope he will forgive me if I can't read his first name), thinks that American clubs would fly into Japan and play a 10 game series as opposed to the tradition three or four here in the states.

That would thus cut down on the number of 5,000-8,000 mile trips across the globe to get to Japan from the USA.

Japanese honcho Michael Westbay has proposed that the various countries that have pro leagues in the Far East, Taiwan, Korea, and Japan, (maybe later even China) could get together and form a kind of Pacific Rim League. There are a lot of benefits to this, but there also political, cultural and logistical problems to work out as well. Next season, the Daiei Hawks and Orix Blue Wave will be playing a regular season series in Taiwan to try to goose the popularity of Japanese baseball in Taiwan. There is already a lot of interchange in players between Taiwan and Japan, with the Orix Blue Wave having Ming-cheh Hsu on its pitching staff and looking to add the fine 21 year old

righthander Chan Hsu Hsiah, who is also well regarded by the Mariners, Dodgers and Diamondbacks to go along with Yomiuri. Scouts say that Chan could be major league ready within a year, so he may be the next great Taiwanese hurler in Japan since Kuo Tai-yuan (or Taigen Kaku, as he was known in Japan), who won 117 games in 13 seasons with the Seibu Lions, being voted MVP in 1991 after a 15-6 2.59 season. And there have been Japanese who have managed teams in Taiwan, though no Taiwanese managers in Japan unless you count Sadaharu Oh, who is half-Taiwanese.

Taguchi Will Accept Demotion to Minors

St. Louis Cardinals outfielder So Taguchi, who has a clause in his contract that would allow him to return to the Japanese leagues if he were demoted to the minors here in the states, is now saying that he would accept being sent down and "try to fight my way back." Taguchi evidently has decided that he wants to give MLB a full shot so that even if he fails he won't leave it with any lingering regrets.

Finally, a Note to the Media:

To those out there in the baseball media, I would appreciate it that if I don't know you, and you want to use any of the stuff I have researched for other media organizations, that you send me a note informing me that you intend to do so. I don't care about getting paid or anything like that, but I just got plagiarized in a big way by a REAL MAJOR media outlet and it was a bit upsetting. You can plagiarize my research as much as you want with the exception of the material I put up here on Baseball Guru, which must be done with explicit permission, as long as you send me an email to give me a head's up. For those media outlets who I already deal with, do what thou wilt.

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