Monday, September 12, 2016

Seibu Lions managerial candidates for 2017

Koji Akiyama (right) was viewed as a top candidate for the Lions manager role. He threw the first pitch at a game for the Uni-President 7-11 Lions of Taiwan. Here he is pictured with former Seibu Lions teammate and current Uni Lions manager Taigen Kaku (Tai-yuan Kuo)
The Saitama Seibu Lions will have a new manager for 2017. There is only one question: Who is it? For a long time, we've been speculating one man to take the position, but the possibilities become endless (almost).

We can only guess and look at this logically. There are three known candidates and a few others we can just throw out for fun. Here is a list showing pros and cons of each well-known candidate, as well as a few people who are available.

LINKED:

The Lions have been linked to three names, one since as early as last fall. It has been known they've talked to these candidates and are considering them.

Shinya Miyamoto: Miyamoto was linked as early as when the news broke that Norio Tanabe would not return earlier this month. The Lions have apparently offered him the position, according to one report. Miyamoto is remembered as an infielder for the Swallows from 1995-2013 with no prior connection to the Lions.

Pros: He brings a fresh face among managers. He was a long time player and is young enough to relate to the current players on the Lions. As a former infielder, the Lions need help at shortstop and it's possible he can fix that area. He would also buck the trend of Lions managerial hires, as they haven't hired someone away from the organization since 1982.

Cons: Miyamoto has as much coaching as experience as almost every reader of his blog combined. Zero. He has been an in-game commentator on NHK since retiring as a player and has mostly been an observer of the game. He would be "green" with no prior experience, similar to how Tomoaki Kanemoto of the Hanshin Tigers is learning about now.

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Tetsuya Shiozaki: Shiozaki has been lined up for as early as the end of 2013. When Hisanobu Watanabe (Nabe-Q) resigned after the season, Shiozaki was expected to be the successor. General Manager Haruhiko Suzuki refused to go that route and hired Haruki Ihara instead with Shiozaki managing the ni-gun team. Recently, he was promoted to the equivalent of bench coach at the start of 2016, expected to be the heir to Tanabe.

Pros: He has vast knowledge of the Lions not only as a player, but working within the organization since 2007 in various roles. As a former ni-gun manager, he also knows most of the farm team minus the 2015 draft class having a first hand look at them. The Lions are traditionally known to promote from within and he would also continue the tradition. He has been well-groomed for this moment having the first-hand look of watching and learning under Tanabe for the 2016 season.

Cons: Some could view this as chalk, or boring. Majority of the media and fans have speculated that he would be the manager since Tanabe was given a contract for the 2016 season. Putting 2+2 together with that promotion has already been a sign. Another is how much camera time Shiozaki has received from TV Asahi and another networks broadcasting Lions games, almost as much as Tanabe.

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Koji Akiyama: Koji Akiyama hasn't managed a game since the 2014 Japan Series ended. A longtime player and Hall of Famer, Akiyama was traded by the Lions to the then-Fukuoka Daiei Hawks after the 1993 season and hasn't been employed by them ever since. After retiring as a player, he would coach and later manage the Hawks, eventually winning a Japan Series title twice. The Lions admitted that they talked to him, but Akiyama himself has kept things quiet.

Pros: This would be a classic "Mom, I'm coming home" moment if he were to come to the Lions, the team he started his career with. He has already been a winner as a manger before, bringing an old school mentality for someone who is only in his 50s. There would be energy in the longtime Lions fans if he came back.

Cons: Can't teach an old dog new tricks. A manager often peaks in relating to his players right at age 50 and it's possible he'd bring a style and culture that can't relate to the current Lions players. Maybe the Softbank Hawks he inherited were too talented and his chances of succeeding with less talent in Tokorozawa shows he could be a fraud behind a loaded team?

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Hatsuhiko Tsuji: Tsuji has been the strategy and defense coach for the Chunichi Dragons since 2014. He also served a stint with them from 2004-2011. As a player, he was the Lions' 2B from the Golden Era. After retirement, he went straight into coaching where he also served with the Tokyo Yakult Swallows and Yokohama DeNA Baystars. His name has been rumored since 9/22.

Pros: Tsuji could help the infield defense right away, where the Lions led the league in errors. He's been well-equipped and traveled as a coach and could be ready to be a skipper. Some excitement could come as Tsuji would return to the team where his baseball career started.

Cons: Like Akiyama above, Tsuji would be the oldest of the four linked candidates listed. At age 57, he would have his first managing job if hired. This could be a boring hire as Tsuji worked for what is expected to be a last place Dragons team. Chunichi also bunted the most among Central League teams, it would be a red flag for us as we here at Graveyard Baseball do not want to see a team that just bunts like it's an automatic thought.

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THROWING A NAME OUT

This list is just throwing a name out of the hat because these men are available. Consider this a "just for fun" list with a 1% chance of any of these guys actually being hired.

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Motonobu Tanishige: Tanishige was recently axed by the Chunichi Dragons in August in the middle of his third season as the skipper. Previously he was a player-manager, but didn't get to finish his first season as a full-time manager.

Tatsunori Hara: Tatsunori Hara was a legendary Yomiuri Giants player and later manager for the team. He stepped down after the 2015 Climax Series on his own will, most likely because of the toll a manager job can take.

Hisanori Yokota: Yokota is currently the Lions farm team manager after previously being the team's pitching coach at the ichi-gun level. He could be an alternate if Shiozaki doesn't want the job.

Hiromoto "Dave" Okubo: Okubo was a manager for the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles in 2015 and also spent time as a farm manager for them previously. He was also a coach for the Lions in 2008 and played for them as a catcher for 8 seasons.

Hiroshi Moriwaki: Moriwaki was the Orix Buffaloes manager from 2013-2015. He was given the axe after a poor three months in 2015 and hasn't been employed in baseball since. Moriwaki led the Buffaloes to only their second postseason appearance in 2014 as Orix Buffaloes.

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Outlook

We expect Shinya Miyamoto or Tetsuya Shiozaki to be the manager of the Lions for 2017. Akiyama would be a long shot, considering he entered retirement two years ago. Shiozaki would be the ultimate fall back option if they don't like anyone else available. In a perfect world, Akiyama would be the most interesting considering the stories he would draw returning to baseball, let alone the team that he began his career with.

In our Lions OenDEN podcast episode, we discussed the situation at the 18:00 mark. It was a lame duck year from the start and the Lions are eating the mistake of hiring Ihara in 2014 which has carried over to today.

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