Jim Albright / the japanese insider
The 2009 Review of NPB Free Agents, Posted Players, and Players to Watch
By Jim Albright
Note: Player salaries are calculated based upon the December 16, 2008 exchange rate of about 90 yen to the dollar, or $110.27 per 10,000 Yen. Central League pitchers are evaluated at National League numbers and Pacific League pitchers at American League numbers, as Japan also has one league with the DH and one without. Doing it this way keeps the players in context. The source for player data are the player pages at Japanese Baseball.com
The guys in this section are either former major leaguers who are free agents, at least arguably played at a major league starting level, are free agents under the age of 35, or have given serious indications they want to go to the majors. As you shall see, it's a small class this year.
It looks to me like 2007 was his career year, and unless this already 32 year old catcher is a veritable defensive whiz (and the fact he has no Gold Gloves makes me doubt he's that good defensively), I don't see him having much value to the majors. He's a low average hitter who walks less than average and has no better than mediocre isolated power. That combination means he's not going to help much with his bat, that's for sure.
This guy is above major league average as a starting pitcher. He lost some time from his Central League (no DH) team in 2008 due to illness and/or a strained back. Assuming this 33 year old has a clean bill of health, he should be a good addition for somebody.
Another Central League product. He was excellent as a reliever in 2007, and lost time in 2008 to injury and the Olympics. If he's healthy, he should be at least an above-average quality major league starter or reliever, and could be quite a bit better than that. I don't know what role (reliever or starter) he'll be used in/want to do in the majors, but his record indicates he could do either. He's 33, so he might be wearing down. We'll see--but he's worth taking a shot on. He had a monster year in 1999 in Japan, and I thought it would be interesting to see how it would look as a major league equivalent:
Looks pretty good to me.
I understand this Central League hurler who turns 40 in mid-April is looking to get into the majors. He may have the desire, but the record I have shows nothing to recommend him. If he was really superb against lefties, he might be suitable for that lefty-only specialist role, and his salary is low enough to take a chance if that's true. Otherwise, I'd pass.
B. NPB Players Posted for 2009 MLB Season
There's rumors this 35 year old Pacific League (DH league) lefty will be posted. He was pretty good in 2006 and 2007, and being a southpaw never hurts. That said, he was awful in 2004, 2005 and 2008. He might come cheaply enough for a team that is desperate for left-handed help to take a chance on him. I can't see that he'll generate much in the way of a posting fee, and he'd probably be worth more to the Seibu Lions in 2009 than he'll generate in the way of that fee. Thus, that part of the rumor doesn't make sense to me. Of course, it wouldn't be the first time a team did something that wasn't too wise.
C. NPB Players to Watch
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 aren't going to the majors in 2009.
The standards for a player to make this section are that first, the player must be less than 30 years old on April 1, 2009, and earn at least 1-oku yen last season (100 million yen). The first standard eliminates those players who are too old to be regarded as hot prospects for the majors in 2009 or after. The second set of requirements are designed to ensure that the players selected are rather high quality talents in Japan. Of course, salaries are hardly perfect measure, but they'll have to do. Many thanks to Michael Westbay for his help in compiling this list.
I will be including the number of seasons each player has played in Japan. They can be posted at any time if the team wishes, but there's little incentive for them to do so until the player is nearing free agency, at which time he could go to the majors without the Japanese team receiving any compensation. Since free agency is nine years service time (usually a bit more than actual seasons, due to short seasons played in early years in the player's career plus time lost to injury) under the current rules in Japan, players aren't likely to be posted until they've played at least 7 and probably 8-9 seasons.
I will not be including salary information for these guys, as they are far enough away from the majors that such information isn't terribly useful at this point. They're all earning about a million dollars a year or more now, and if you want more data, see the player pages at Japanese Baseball.com
He's had a nice average since 2005, and he's been improving in the power department. He won't be coming stateside for at least a few years, but he's worth keeping an eye on. He'll be 27 by Opening Day, 2009.
He'll be 29 in May, but this Pacific League hurler is better than the average MLB starter at this point. There's real value in that.
This Central League pitcher will be 28 in June, and he'll probably be able to come over in a year or two. However, his performances with the exception of 2007 haven't been even decent for an inning eater in the majors. He'd have to have a good season or two when his stats are converted to major league equivalents before I'd have much interest in him.
This Pacific Leaguer will be 22 in August, and his stats, especially in the last two seasons, justify the hype about him. We'll see if he can keep it up. Pitchers who are used this hard, especially this young, have a way of being prone to breaking down. I hope he doesn't, but I wouldn't bet the farm he won't, either.
This Central League hurler toils in a rather spacious park in Hanshin, at least by Japanese standards. As I do not have data to make park adjustments, this may lead to an overstatement of his performance on a major league level. He'll be 29 in July, he should be soon eligible to come over, and he's been quite good. I'd certainly watch him.
This Pacific League hurler will be 28 in July and should be within 2-3 years of being able to come over. Except for 2005 and his brief 2006, he's been above the level one would expect of an average MLB starter. Definitely worth watching.
This shortstop will be 28 in June and should be eligible to come over in 2-3 years. He hits for good averages and has some power by middle infielder standards. He's worth paying attention to.
This Central League pitcher also plays in the spacious Hanshin park, and looks to be no more than a decent middle relief type. He'll be 28 by Opening Day, 2009, and is about 3-4 years from being able to go to the majors. Unless he improves significantly, he might be useful to some team, bu isn't likely to be a star or even be an inning eater.
This Pacific League pitcher will be 28 next December, and he's at least 3 years from getting a shot at the majors, if not more. I don't like his dip in innings pitched in 2008 since I'm not sure why it happened. However, he's been good when he's played since 2006, so he's worth keeping an eye on.
He's going to be 28 on Opening Day and soon should be eligible to come over. Unfortunately, he hasn't shown enough with the bat to merit much attention from the majors, given that he's an outfielder.
He turns 28 before the 2009 season starts, and is probably 2-3 years away from being able to go to the majors. He's had above average to good isolated power, and, better yet, shown steady improvement in that regard. He's also been improving in terms of hitting for average. Once he got his major league equivalent in average over .250 (in 2007), he started to look like a valuable player at the major league level. I'd definitely watch to see if he can retain or maybe even improve over his current level. If he can, I think he'd be a capable major leaguer.
This shortstop will turn 27 at the end of July, and is probably about 3 years from having the chance to go to the majors. He's hit for decent averages and has shown more power than many middle infielders. He bears watching.
This shortstop will be 25 in July and is probably about 4 years away from having the opportunity to go to the majors. He's been a decent hitter for young middle infielder, and he showed more power in 2008. He's certainly a guy worth keeping an eye on.
This Pacific League lefty turned 28 this past October and is probably 2-3 years away from being able to go to the majors. He's been able to handle a solid pitching load and still do so above the level of an average MLB starter. If he can keep this up, he'll generate interest when the time comes.
This lefty pitches in the Pacific League and will be 28 in February. He's likely 3-4 years away from a shot at the majors. So far, he's looked like a lefty inning eater type starter, but no more. Still, that could earn him some nice sized MLB paychecks if he can keep it up.