Free Agent Watch

We still have a lot (hopefully) of playoff baseball left ahead of us, but it’s never too early to start thinking about how to improve the team moving ahead.

One of the most obvious points of interest is the list of players that have recently been granted their outright release by the teams that they played for in 2012. A bit of a gamble considering that they had been cut by their former teams, the Swallows did well in bringing pitchers Itsuki Shoda and Kenta Abe into the fold. Shoda was arguably the more valuable of the two as the lefty gave the team 25.1 innings of middle relief with a 2.84 ERA.

Abe also proved to be a serviceable option out of the pen with a 3.60 ERA through 15 innings of work. In other words, it’s possible to stabilize the team through the acquisition of players that didn’t find their groove on the previous team(s) that they played for.

What follows is a short list of players that the Swallows might want to look into.

Iwamura was senryokugai’ed by the Eagles following two rough seasons in Sendai.

Akinori Iwamura–INF (released by Tohoku on Oct. 7th, 2012)
The 33-year-old former Tokyo player has been horrible since returning to Japan to play for the Tohoku Eagles in 2011. The infielder was a central part of the Tokyo Swallows offense from 2000-2006 before finding some success as a second baseman with the Tampa Bay Rays.

But he never really bounced back from the knee injury that basically ended his MLB career, and he hit .183/.258/.217 in 2011 and .209/.316/.343 in 2012. You can probably see why the Eagles released him.

And the birds have already expressed interest, so it’s not like this is only my idea. He played third for Tokyo back in the day, and he has a lot of experience at second, but I’d actually like to see him playing first for us next year.

The transition to first will take some of the pressure off of his legs, and Hatakeyama could definitely use some competition over there on the corner. He would also serve as a utility infielder by covering at third whenever necessary. But most importantly, he’d be there to give Hatakeyama a run for his pudding money.

It sounds like he has something to prove now, and the Swallows have a history of welcoming former birds back to the nest, so don’t be too surprised if it happens.

After a promising start, Yomiuri has given up on him.

Hideki Asai–P (released by Yomiuri on Oct. 3rd, 2012)
Asai is a name that has frequently been thrown into the mix as a potential starter for the Giants since he joined the team back in July of 2010.

He has exhibited flashes of brilliance over the years while relying on a fastball, curve, fork, and slider.  However, he apparently fell out of favor in Yomiuri-land after not delivering on all of the lip service that he was paid by the coaches through the media.

The 28-year-old pitcher could provide some extra competition in the bullpen and even earn a spot start every now and again. He was 4-1 for the Giants in 2010 after being traded from Tohoku. He posted a 2.01 ERA and struck out 35 while walking nine.

Asai didn’t make any top team appearances in 2011 or 2012, but maybe another change of scenery is just what he needs.

Update: the Swallows already have Asai on their radar.

Chunichi has first dibs on re-signing him, but one can always hope.

Enyelbert Soto–P (soon-to-be Chunichi free agent)
This one could be expensive because Soto has put up some impressive numbers for the Dragons over the past two season. The southpaw has thrown 140.1 top team innings over his two seasons here, and he has a 9-2 record with a 1.92 ERA to show for it.

Downside? The Swallows will easily be outbid on this one. He would also have to compete with Tokyo’s other four competent non-Japanese for a spot on the top team roster.

There are also murmurings of Soto’s desire to return to the majors.

Anyway, these are the three interesting players that struck me over the past few weeks. Chime in if you can think of any others, whether they’re without a team here in Japan, somewhere else in Asia, or even players that might be a good fit from MLB/MiLB.


About Christopher Pellegrini

Christopher is a budding sabermetrician and long-time supporter of Tokyo's more lovable team, the Swallows. He has publicly volunteered, several times, that he plans to buy the team at some point in the future. When he finally runs the joint, it is likely that he will fine any player who swings at the first pitch or sac bunts (unless it's a pitcher, of course). Follow him on Twitter: @chrispellegrini