Off-Season Player Transactions and Analysis

All of us at Tsubamegun want to wish you all a happy new year! Training camp for the 2014 season has opened and it’s time to evaluate where the team stands in 2014.

Here are your 2014 Tokyo Yakult Swallows!

Here are your 2014 Tokyo Yakult Swallows!

After much off-season fanfare about the Swallows being the landing spot for a big free agent, the Swallows ultimately struck out on the domestic free agent market. Kenichi Nakata, Kan Otake, and Yasutomo Kubo all ended up elsewhere, and the only major additions to the Swallows came via the draft and international free agency. This article will take a look at the transactions the Swallows made during the off-season and analyze some of the implications for the team.

Retirements

  • Shinya Miyamoto IF
  • Atsushi Fujimoto IF

Miyamoto’s glove and bat saw less significant action in his last season, so the Swallows probably won’t miss his contributions on the field. The contributions Miyamoto gave to the team as coach and super-veteran cannot be quantified, and we’ll see how the Swallows’ young infield will respond without the pressure/encouragement of Miyamoto on the bench. The Swallows have a glut of players that can play second, short, and third, but no clear picture as to who might rise above and be the next Miyamoto. While I was personally a fan of Fujimoto and what he represented, his retirement probably doesn’t affect the the team too much.

Released

  • Yuya Ota P
  • Rafael Fernandes P
  • Yuki Mizuno C
  • Yuji Nakane P
  • Kosuke Matsui P
  • Taiyo Fujita P
  • Itsuki Shoda P
  • Keisuke Mizuta IF
  • Yusuke Kusuki OF
  • Chris Leroux P

The Swallows released some relievers (Fujita, Shoda, and Matsui) who saw some time over the last few seasons. I expressed my surprise at some of these cuts in the last podcast but ultimately none of these arms were expected to log big innings in the future. The team also cut ties with players like Ota, Fernandes, Mizuta, Kusuki, and Mizuno who just didn’t show enough to stay on the team and fell too far down the depth chart. Unfortunately Chris Leroux wasn’t able to perform in limited opportunities and the Canadian wasn’t asked back for a second season.

Drafted

  • Toshihiro Sugiura P
  • Naomichi Nishiura IF
  • Ryo Akiyoshi P
  • Keiji Iwahashi P
  • Yuto Koyama P
  • Ryota Fujii C

Sugiura is arguably the biggest acquisition of the offseason for the Swallows. Whether he can nail down a spot in the rotation will probably determine how far the Swallows can rise out of the cellar this season. If Sugiura can have the success that Ogawa displayed last year, the Swallows would be in good shape. Akiyoshi and Iwahashi should see time in the bullpen with a possible spot start as a tryout for the rotation. Nishiura is mentioned in conjunction with the Swallows’ various infield competitions (2B, 3B, and SS) and may see time with the top team. Although it should be noted that 2012 draftee Ryota Yachi got similar hype last season, but ultimately saw just 6 games of top team action late in the season. You can read more about our latest draftees in our draft recap.

Signed

  • Chris Carpenter P
  • Chris Narveson P
  • Hiroki Sanada P

If Sugiura isn’t the big impact acquisition of the offseason this pair of Chris’ (to complement our very own Chris Pellegrini) are the ones that will have a chance to lift the expectations of the 2014 Swallows above those of the 2013 Swallows. The two pitchers find themselves competing for spots with fellow import pitchers Tony Barnette and Orlando Roman. The team has generally avoided crowding the import slots with too many options so it came as a bit of a surprise that the team re-signed Roman and signed two more pitchers. Assuming that Wladimir Balentien and Lastings Milledge have a lock on two of the four import slots, that leaves two spots for four pitchers. Roman is probably the first man out given his age. He was probably re-signed given his versatility and relative durability last season, and will probably only be given a significant shot only if those in front of him fail or get hurt. Chris Carpenter, not the 2005 NL Cy Young winner, is a 25 year-old right-hander with a 100 mph fastball. Carpenter is expected to compete for a spot in the bullpen and was probably signed to provide competition to Tony Barnette. Southpaw Chris Narveson, on the other hand, is expected to compete for a spot in the rotation. Narveson was a bottom-of-the-rotation starter with the Brewers in 2010 and 2011 before he lost most of 2012 to injury. After a lackluster 2013 season in AAA Nashville, Narveson finds himself in Tokyo. If Narveson manages to grab a spot in the Swallows’ rotation, the last spot will probably go to the winner of the Barnette/Carpenter bullpen competition. Otherwise the spots will go to Barnette and Carpenter, or to Roman depending on the strengths provided by the non-imports.

The Swallows also signed reliever Hiroki Sanada who was coming off a successful season in Taiwan. Sanada had some good years in Yokohama after starting his career as a Giant. Sanada set a CPBL record for holds in 2013. Expect Sanada to a similar role as the recently cut Taiyo Fujita and Itsuki Shoda. a signing with little down-side, but limited upside.

Signed to Ikusei Contract

  • Yuji Nakane P

Nakane who was released earlier in the off-season (see above) but was promptly re-signed at the cheaper Ikusei rate to allow him to continue rehabbing right knee injury.

Summary

On paper the 2014 Swallows are hard to distinguish from the 2013 Swallows. The team didn’t obviously win or lose in free agency, and instead added pieces through the draft and international free agency. Both avenues fail to provide NPB experience in which to judge the new recruits. Those factors combined with natural growth and regression, which are hard to project, make making confident predictions very hard. If Narveson and/or Sugiura work out as quality starters, we can forgive the team for not signing the more proven talent that was available in free agency this off-season. Our pitching success will ultimately come down to how key players like Tateyama and Barnette return from injury, and how our draftees and signees complement them. Our offensive success will largely hinge on the improvement of existing players.

The team still has uncertainties at numerous positions, and we’re going to let camp shake out before coming up with projections for the opening day roster. Be on the look out for that, and our annual pre-season podcast before the Swallows’ season officially kicks off on March 28 at Jingu.

The eight additions to the team since 2013.

The eight additions to the team since 2013.

P.S. For those of you who care about such things. The Swallows are running their usual Tsubakuro off-season shenanigans again this year. This year’s story is that Tsubakuro has not yet signed with the team and is paying out of his own pocket to conduct camp at Jingu. Negotiations broke down at the end of 2013, but Tsubakuro is apparently prepared to take the maximum allowed 25% pay cut for his part in the team’s last place finish. The mascot was paid 10,000 yen plus incentives last season.

About Kozo Ota

Kozo Ota is a third-generation Swallows fan that grew up on Montreal Expos baseball. (You can read more about that here.) When he's not at Jingu, he works as a freelance translator/interpreter to make enough money to go to Jingu. You can find random posts by Kozo on Google+ and Twitter.

  • Lawrence Abbott

    Narveson is pretty much done. He had major shoulder surgery and missed two full seasons when he was with the Brewers. The Brewers had virtually no left-handers on the staff (and that’s one of the reasons Aoki was dealt to KC for a mid-level lefty, because the entire rotation for 2014 is comprised of righties, the closer and set-up guy are righties and the Brewers released Mike Gonzalez, who with Tom Gorzelanny were the only 2 lefties on the Brewers staff) and they still wouldn’t call him up. I would be very surprised if Narveson made he ichi-gun squad, let alone the rotation.