Wednesday, March 2, 2016

NPB 101: Designating for assignment and farm teams

The Seibu Lions farm stadium is next door to the Seibu Dome (as seen behind)
With baseball season just around the corner, there are plenty of different rules to be made known for NPB in comparison to MLB. The big one is how the top team (ichi-gun or first team) roster is in comparison to the farm team (ni-gun or second team).

There are is only two teams in NPB per club, where the ichi-gun has a 28-man roster and the farm team carries the rest in ni-gun. The farm team also has the same name and uniforms of their parent club. The only difference is how the division alignment is by geography where it's divided by the Eastern and Western Leagues in comparison to the Central and Pacific.

All five Kanto (greater Tokyo) area teams (Yokohama DeNA Baystars, Saitama Seibu Lions, Chiba Lotte Marines, Yomiuri Giants and Tokyo Yakult Swallows) as well as the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters and Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles are in the Eastern League while the five others are in the Western League.  Yes, seven teams are in the Eastern League while the Chunichi Dragons, Fukuoka Softbank Hawks, Hiroshima Toyo Carp, Orix Buffaloes and Hanshin Tigers make up the Western League. A fun tidbit is that the Fighters farm team is in Kamagaya in Chiba prefecture, East of Tokyo and far from Sapporo, where their ichi-gun team plays.

The 28-man roster will have three players scratched or "inactive" each game, meaning 25 players eligible. Inactive players are not public, but it is presumed that the pitchers who start the games before and after are scratched.

Overall, there can be up to 70 players under contract for their full roster. Otherwise, they can go to the ikusei, which is similar to an NFL practice squad at a lower cost. Ikusei players are only eligible to participate in ni-gun games and wear a triple digit number to indicate this.

How do players go up and down?

Players are not designated for assignment, but rather deactivated from the 28-man ichi-gun roster when they want to take them off. While waivers exist, there is no risk when deactivating a player in comparison to designating someone for assignment. They have to be outright released or their contract must be terminated to go on waivers.

As a result of deactivation where it won't cost a player his potential contract, he becomes ineligible for the top team for 10 days. So if he deactivated on August 12, he would be eligible to return on August 22 at the earliest.

A player does not need to be deactivated to participate in a ni-gun game, so its not unheard of for a top player to play for the farm team in the day time and the ichi-gun for a night game on the same day. For the Lions, it's even more convenient if the farm and parent clubs are both playing at home with farm stadium Seibu II being next door to the Seibu Dome. Tomoya Mori has done this as a catcher for a farm game while being a designated hitter at night with the ichi-gun.

So why does a player get deactivated? There are several reasons. The first and most obvious would be for injury as the player wouldn't be playing any time soon. It could also be performance related if someone struggles on the field.

Third, the player could be the last on the roster and someone better is returning or the team wants someone to come up, so a corresponding move must happen. Lastly, it could also result in making room for a foreign player in rotation with multiple players that are good.

Foreigners play a factor in these decisions occasionally

Some teams have a loaded rotation, or they have more than four imports on their roster. The rule in Japan is that only four players can be on the ichi-gun team at the same time. You also cannot have four pitchers or four position players. Three pitchers and a position player is fine, two pitchers and two position players and even three position players and no pitchers are acceptable.

With the four player limit, some teams could have a few pitchers go every 10 days due to wanting to make use of all imports. The Fukuoka Softbank Hawks have displayed this with Rick Van Den Hurk in their rotation combined with Jason Standridge and other pitchers.

It is also possible for a foreign player to obtain the status of being a "Japanese" player if he has nine years of service in NPB. Foreign players who accomplished this in history includes Alex "Rami-chan" Ramirez, Alex Cabrera, Tuffy Rhodes and Tai-Yuan Kuo.

This is a very special accomplishment because a player would have to be decent for several years to be wanted back, but also solid enough to not retire before that ninth year comes. Standridge, now with the Chiba Lotte Marines, could reach this status if he completes the 2016 season.

Playoffs? You're talking about playoffs? 

The farm teams will play each other throughout the year and the first place finishers of both the Eastern and Western Leagues in a one game championship at the end of the year.


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