Several reports have surfaced regarding the availability of Japanese free agents. I asked Wayne Graczyk, baseball columnist for The Japan Times, for a report on the two most likely arms heading to the States.
I had the privilege of meeting and attending a few games with Graczyk during my trip to Japan this summer. Something of an institution in the Japanese baseball scene, and regarded as the English-speaking world’s media gateway to Japanese baseball, Wayne served as sports editor of the Tokyo Weekender from 1977 to 2004, covers the Yomiuri Giants for Nippon TV and, since 1976, has compiled the Japan Pro Baseball Media Guide. One of his other responsibilities involves translating quotes from the North American players to the Japanese press. He’s done this for a number of years.
Hiroshima Carp starter Hiroki Kuroda and Chiba Lotte Marines closer Masahide Kobayashi are mentioned most as two pitchers who could be pitching in the Majors next season. According to Graczyk, they’ve lost a little luster.
“Kuroda has lost something and is not as sharp as last year,” he said. “Lost some velocity for sure.” As for Kobayashi, “Not certain if Kobayashi wants to go to the majors,” he added. “He is a good closer and word is he wants to file for free agency, but stay in Japan with one of the three Central League teams in the Kanto area -- the Giants, Swallows or Yokohama BayStars.”
Besides Kuroda and Kobayashi, a number of others may be prepared to make the jump. MLB Trade Rumors enlisted the help of a couple of writers to outline three others, including SoftBank Hawks forkballer Kazumi Saito, Chunichi Dragons ace Kenshin Kawakami and lefty closer Hitoke Iwase, also of the champion Dragons. Graczyk reminds us that some of the best talent to emerge from the Far East weren’t well known stars before leaving Japan.
“Okajima was a situational lefty with the Giants and Fighters, and the Red Sox scouts apparently saw something that convinced them he would be a good middle reliever or set-up man in the majors,” Graczyk said. “How right they were.”