Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Japanese FAs May Be Bullpen Options

Masahide Kobayashi is a 33 year-old closer in Japan. He has a plus fastball that can touch 96 mph, a good splitter and an average slider. He is no spring chicken, but every bullpen in baseball could use a helping hand, especially the one rotting in the Bronx this Winter. Here's a report from Fantasy Baseball Cafe:
Masahide Kobayashi, record-setting, 6' 0", 172 lb., 33-year-old, righty closer will be a free agent after the 2007 season. After Iwase, and with Ishii on the mend, Kobayashi is likely the best readily available relief pitcher. A converted starter, Kobayashi was the first Japanese closer to achieve 20 saves in 6 consecutive seasons. He also had 33 consecutive saves in 2002, and has 200 career saves in seven years as the closer of the Chiba Lotte Marines. The fact that he will not need to be posted makes him even more attractive. Kobayashi has stated in the past that he deos not really enjoy America but that could easily change with the right contract and team. He has good control and is armed with a prototypical closer's arsenal containing a 95 mph fastball and slider. Kobayashi also has a split-finger fastball which he uses to keep left-handers off balance.

If signed as a free agent, Kobayashi could earn around $5 - 7 million dollars a year.
Kobayashi's 2007 showed potential for decline, but his raw stuff may still translate. He is far from a sure thing, but certainly worth a second look considering the dearth of middle relief available this year and year's past.

As is the case with Kobayashi, Yomiuri Giants veteran Koji Uehara is a free agent this offseason. Uehara was the Japanese version of Greg Maddux. Cunning, talented, poised and exhibiting tremendous control. He does not throw hard, 89-92 mph, but may command a respectable deal from a major league club, especially considering he was converted to closer in 2007 due to a nagging hamstring injury. He responded well, to say the least. Uehara struck out 66 batters in 62 total innings and walked only four, earned 32 saves, a 1.74 ERA and BAA of .204 in 55 games. At 32 years old, he isn't very young either, but he's been on MLB's radar for years now as a reliable professional pitcher.

Because I do not believe Kosuke Fukudome to be anything other than a more athletic outfield version of Akinori Iwamura. He will not hit 50 homers in the States and may not notch 20 his rookie season. Another pitcher available (via posting) this offseason is Hiroki Kuroda, who throws a fastball between 91-93mph along with a slider, shuto, forkball and splitter. He doesn't strike out many per nine innings, but is a reliable arm in Japanese competition.

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My #1 addition to the 2008 bullpen would be a healthy Mark Melancon, with JB Cox serving as a distant #2. Humberto Sanchez will not return from elbow surgery for some time, though there are several other potential bullpen powerarms in the minors. Guys like Kevin Whelan - when throwing strikes - would apply.

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2 comments:

Pinstripe_Mike said...

No more Japanese pitchers!

Tony Gicas said...

Haha.

Certainly a fair argument Mike and it would be hard to sell Yankee fans on another Japanese pitching import.

However, in several cases, the pitcher in question is a legitimate free agent, without the hassle of posting fees. I guy like Uehara is certainly intriguing, though he'd probably want to start.

Hitoki Iwase is another very interesting bullpen option. Akinori Otsuka was his predecessor and his unconventional delivery is much like Hideki Okajima's. Some say Iwase wanted to see how Okajima's stuff would translate to MLB. Suffice to say, Iwase liked what he saw from Okajima's resounding successful 2007.

Just because the Yankees apparently chose the wrong pitcher won't deter them enough to ignore a possible baseball pipeline in the future.

But I agree. It'd be hard to see another Japanese FA signing, unless the contract were reasonable.