Jim Albright / the japanese insider
The 2005 Review of NPB Free Agents, Posted Players, and Players to Watch
By Jim Albright
Note: Player salaries are calculated based upon the November 10, 2004 exchange rate of about 107 yen to the dollar, or $93.46 per 10,000 Yen.
A. 2005 NPB Free Agents
He's 37, and his rate of strikeouts to innings pitched are fine. In 2001-2002, he might have been a decent MLB pitcher, but you can't like the last year or two. Maybe he's good enough to be a middle inning reliever in the majors, but I sure wouldn't put much money into finding out.
He's 35, and while the strikeouts per innings pitched are fine, the home run numbers are awful. Combine that with at least a hit an inning in the last two years, and you've got quite high projected ERAs. I'd pass.
He's 36, which is definitely a reason to be careful. Still, in two of the past three seasons, he's looked like a decent fourth or fifth starter. He's had good control and acceptable strikeouts per nine innings, so if he'd take a low base salary and a lot of incentives, he could be an OK guy to take a chance on for a year or two.
He's just turned 30 and has been released by his team so he can go to the majors. He's finally turned in two similar seasons. I'd say he's likely to play at least another year or two at about the 2004 level, then begin to decline with age. He won Gold Gloves in 2001 and 2003, but as we saw with Kazuo Matsui, that's no guarantee of a NPB middle infielder's prowess with the glove at the major league level. I'd scout that aspect of his game carefully, because if his defense is up to snuff, you've got to like a .300 hitting second baseman with some pop in his bat. Unless Jojima is posted, he's almost certain to be the best player to come over from Japan this year.
He's a 32 year old lefty outfielder who has only hit at a major league starter's level once in the past five years, in 2001. His averages haven't been good enough otherwise, he doesn't walk a lot, and has minimal power. He might be a decent reserve outfielder in the majors, but otherwise, I wouldn't be interested.
The information I've gotten is that he is looking to stay in Japan. His record suggests that is a smart move on his part, because his major league equivalents tell us he's an old outfielder with mediocre to poor averages in all of the past five seasons except 2001, who doesn't walk a lot (thus having low on base percentages) and has little power.
This is another guy who apparently wants to stay in Japan. He had a good year in 2003, but at his age, I wouldn't expect him to outperform 2004. He's be no more than a short-term stopgap measure in the majors, and even if you try that, if Father Time suddenly catches up to him, you'll be sorry.
He's 32, and 2003 looks like a year with injuries. Even so, his on base percentages are mediocre to poor, and he has little power for an outfielder at the major league level. Complicating matters further, he's never won any Gold Gloves in Japan. He might be a decent sub outfielder in the majors, but I doubt he'd be more than that.
He'll be 35 early next season, and has indicated a desire to stay in Japan. His best year in the past five is 2004, and even then he'd have been a marginal starter among major league first basemen due to his low power output. When you consider his age, his performance in the previous four years, and the fact 2004 was a contract year for him, you'd better be wary of a significant dropoff next year no matter where he winds up.
If he walked more or had more power, he could challenge for a starting outfield spot in the majors. He's won two Gold Gloves, the last in 2003, so I'd expect he's good defensively. A reasonable choice as a reserve outfielder, but I wouldn't expect any more than that.
He's already 33, and didn't play full time in 2002 and 2003. He won Gold Gloves in Japan at second from 1999 through 2003, but the Kazuo Matsui saga makes me wonder how good with the glove Gold Glove middle infielders from Japan really are. He didn't produce at the level of a major league starter in 2002 and 2003, so you've got to wonder about the contract year effect. If you like his defense and are looking for someone to hold second base for a year or two until some hot prospect is ready to take the job, he could be worth a shot. Otherwise, I see him as a sub in the majors. Problem is, he's a Scott Boras client. If Boras acts like his usual self, he may price this client right out of the market.
He left for Japan with a major league record not quite this good, not that this projected level of performance is anything more than pedestrian for a first baseman. Really, Tony Bautista, who they let go to Japan, is a very similar hitter, though with a little more power and even lower on base percentages. However, Bautista is 21 months younger and played third regularly. It looks to me like the Washington club lost at least in terms of talent. Also, if they were going to go for a first baseman who was available, why not Roberto Petagine, who has been far better than Arias?
Boston signed Petagine, and while the dropoff in 2004 makes one wonder about a decline due to age, I think it's clear he'll be more valuable than Arias. I understand he signed for $750,000, which means he's a bargain. The Sox should do well with this signing, and even if it fails, they've risked little in terms of major league baseball finances. The Yomiuri Giants wanted to play him and another aging first baseman Kiyohara, which at least partially accounts for the decline in playing time.
B. NPB Players Posted for 2005 MLB Season
The only guy who it appears will be posted is Norihiro Nakamura, who has
signed with the Dodgers.
I can't criticize the Dodgers for signing him to a minor league deal, since it's a low risk move with a decent upside potential for them. Nakamura took a lot less money in Japan to do this, and I don't think it was a wise move for him personally. Two years ago, I was impressed with him, but after the last two years and at his age, I think the Dodgers got it right. He might come around, especially for one or two years, but you've got to be concerned he may be near the end of the time when he can be effective, at least in the majors.
C. NPB Players to Watch
This is a new feature to this annual article. The players in the preceding sections are either free agents, have been posted, or at least have a commitment from the NPB team they play for that they will be posted. The following players, with the possible exception of Jojima, aren't going to the majors in 2005.
The standards for a player to make this section are that first, the player must be less than 30 years old on April 1, 2005, and meet one of the following two criteria: a) have accumulated at least 200 rtg2 points in his career to date or b) be a pitcher with at least 100 career estimated win shares (EWS) in his career to date. The first standard eliminates those players who are too old to be regarded as hot prospects for the majors in 2006 or after. The second set of requirements are designed to ensure that the players selected are rather high quality talents in Japan.
He wanted to be posted for 2005, but his team has publicly declined that request. He had a wrist injury in 2003, which accounts for the dropoff there. Since he only turns 26 in 2005, he may even improve beyond his 2004 levels. He won Gold Gloves at third in 2001, 2002, and 2004.
He was hurt in 2004, but I expect he'll bounce back. He's got some power, and when healthy has had good averages and on base percentages. He's also been good enough with the leather to capture two Gold Gloves. The bottom line is that he's got a lot to offer, even at the major league level.
He's improved his averages, his power, and his ability to take a walk in each of the last two seasons. Such a broad-based improvement speaks well of him. He's due to become a free agent after the 2005 season, so his team might opt to post him. He's captured the last six Gold Gloves for catching in the Pacific League, so you've got to think he's got the tools to be at least decent behind the plate, even in the majors. One question is his ability to communicate with his pitchers. It's hard to underestimate the importance of pitcher/catcher communication, and a language barrier can't help in that area. On the other hand, Tony Pena managed for a while with poor English, so it can be done. I just want to know if Jojima can do it. I'd like to know more about his arm, but even if it isn't great, you could live with it for a catcher who hits .300 and slugs .500 and should otherwise be solid behind the plate.
He's about as old as any "player to watch" will ever be--he makes the age standard with two days to spare. He'll hit for average, take enough walks to have a decent on base percentage, and adds some power to the mix. He also should be a plus defensively, having won six Gold Gloves from 1998 through 2003. One thing to watch with him is are there signs of age-based decline.