Aikawa Arrives

Ryouji Aikawa

Ryouji Aikawa

 
Atsuya Furuta. Putting aside the great man’s iconic status as the face of the Yakult Swallows since the early ’90s during the most successful period in their history, he was a damn good ballplayer. Two time Central League and Japan Series MVP, ten time golden-glove recipient, only the second catcher of all-time (and 32nd player overall) to reach 2000 hits, joint Japanese record holder for most home runs hit in consecutive at-bats in a game with four, a .294 career hitter with 217 home runs. . . well, you get the picture. The man was class.

So when he finally hung up his bat and glove for good at the end of the 2007 season, there were some fairly hefty shoes to fill behind the home plate at Jingu.
But be filled they must, and since then a string of catchers have tried to make the Swallow’s catching position their own (see the Catcher Conundrum section of  this post), with Yoneno, Fukukawa and Kawamoto (plus Kinugawa) all occupying the catchers position at some point. Yet none of them were consistent/good enough to take the chance that was presented by Furuta’s absence.

Atsuya Furuta

Atsuya Furuta

Yoneno was the original back-up choice back in the latter part of Furuta’s Tokyo career, and proved himself able enough behind the plate, yet he simply couldn’t hit and fell out of favour under new manager Takada and hasn’t been  seen outside of the farm team since. Fukukawa and Kawamoto then took turns behind the plate for long spells, but the former’s lack of hitting and the latter’s inexperience held them back from grasping the position full-time. Yakult even tried out industrial league recruit Kinugawa for a short time, but still couldn’t successfully plug-up that Furuta shaped hole.

So it was with great excitement that Yakult recently announced the signing of free-agent Yokohama catcher Ryouji Aikawa this month. Amazingly this is Yakult’s first ever free agent signing (and the fact that it is is all you need to know about the organisation’s past ambition).  The 32 year old Aikawa comes to Yakult after failing to attract any interest from MLB (unsurprisingly given his numbers/lack of  power with the bat) this closed-season and has signed a three year deal worth some 400 plus million yen.

Aikawa has hit for .259 in his ten years with the Baystars, with 39 home runs. While his numbers don’t exactly set the pulse racing, compared to what we have (Career averages to date: Yoneno .206, Fukukawa .215, Kawamoto .232) he is a significant upgrade with the bat and will add some much needed experience behind the plate for the birds.

This is all of course not taking into account the Takada-factor which may mean that Aikawa finds himself as an additional member of the Swallows catcher merry-go-round or maybe out in left-field (I jest).

All in all, it’s a very positive signing for the club and will add some much needed stability to the Yakult starting nine.  Welcome to Tokyo, Ryouji!

About David Watkins

David is a baseball bothering Brummie who spends a fair portion of his life fretting over the Tokyo Swallows and the WORLD'S GREATEST FOOTBALL TEAM, Aston Villa. He completes the quartet of abusive sporting relationships by being a die hard New York Knicks and Mets fan. You can find him on twitter: @yakulto

  • Yay! A positive off season move by the birds!

  • flick

    I was craving for an update of this blog, and you came up with three!! Awesome, and thank you!!
    Not only am I glad that Aikawa stabalizes our line-up, I am hoping he will be a good mentor to our young pitchers. Yoshinori, Muranaka, Masubuchi, Kato, and our latest straight-out-of-highschool sensations, Akagawa and Yagi (if they make it to ichi-gun). Those guys are our future.

  • Hey flick.

    Yeah, a combination of folks having lots on and PC issues have meant that we were a little tardy with the latest developments.

    Rest-assured however that it’s full speed ahead from here on in, towards what is promising to be a very interesting 2009 season.

    And you’re right, Aikawa’s acquisition should be invaluable to our young arms.

  • I wonder if the crazy Aikawa fans I met in the Yokohama outfield bleachers who don’t care about the Baystars but just love him will follow him to Yakult 🙂

  • Rob

    I may have missed it, but has there been any word on who Yokohama will take in return?

  • flick

    It turns out that Yokohama is taking cash as compensation for Aikawa. It was pretty surprising considering the Baystars really lack talent.

  • Rob

    Thanks!

  • Apparently Yokohama did want a player, but Yakult wouldn’t release any of the ones they wanted so the Baystars took the cash.

    An unusually intelligent move by the front-office there (as I’m surprised we didn’t give them Ishikawa or some such key-player!)

  • Rob

    What do you mean, didn’t I put Aoki on the protected list? I though YOU were supposed to put Aoki on the protected list. D’oh!!!

  • Christopher Amano-Langtree

    Amazingly, Swallows managed to protect everyone of value that Yokohama would want to take. Still its nice going and shows they’re able to get something right.

  • I’m waiting for the other shoe to drop. There has to be a catch. At some point, we’re going to lose someone valuable, probably to the Giants somehow.