Tuesday, July 24, 2018

2018 NPB Trade Deadline: Seibu Lions candidates to send away or release


The 2017 NPB Trade deadline is on July 31, but it remains an afterthought among fans and media. While trades can in Japan, it usually occurs when it involves an expendable player.

In MLB, we see teams make trades to get better, or sell for the long term. Blockbuster trades are rare in Japan, with the last significant deal being in 2013 involving Yoshio Itoi. If there is a trade, it happens in the offseason majority of the time.

The Saitama Seibu Lions already made their move by acquiring Ryuya Ogawa from the Chunichi Dragons for cash considerations earlier this month. There are currently 68 players on the 70-man roster, but both open spots are likely reserved for any potential promotions for ikusei players C Masato Saito or OF Wataru Takagi.

Last March, the Lions surprised everyone when trading Yosuke Okamoto to the Hanshin Tigers for Daiki Enokida. Okamoto had a decent stretch in 2017 as the 6th starter where the Lions were able to showcase him and use it as a selling point. He ate up quite a few innings and was useful enough for a team to bite.

The Lions can always use pitching depth, but assuming they don't want more than 70 players under contract, they will need to make a 1 for 1 swap. This is always the time to look back at the 2018 season and find out which players are expendable or not needed for 2019 plans and beyond.

Based on playing time, here are some candidates the Lions could dump to another team either at deadline or after the season:

Note: First-year foreigners will not count towards this list. 

P Ryohei Fujiwara: Fujiwara has not played an ichi-gun game in 2018 and only appeared in low leverage for eight outings last season. At age 32, there's no upside here. At ni-gun, he has a 7.20 ERA in 20 innings of work. 

P Kentaro Fukukura: He initially made the Opening Day roster in 2017, but hasn't played an ichi-gun game in 2018. Fukukura was the initial mop up pitcher to start last year and fell out of favor by the time it was June. He was originally a 7th round pick in 2013 and had a productive 2015 in ni-gun. 

P Seiji Kawagoe: Kawagoe was a second round pick in 2015 from the 10-man class, but has failed to impress coaches in ni-gun. He has an 8.79 ERA in 14.1 innings of work down in ni-gun. He was injured in 2016 and maybe it hampered his pitching career. His best option moving forward should be similar to Fumikazu Kimura and Rick Ankiel, where he could be a position player in the OF, something he did in college and high school. Kawagoe is not cutting it as a pitcher. 

P Tsubasa Kokuba: Kokuba received some ichi-gun time in 2016 with the Lions out of contention, but was nothing special. An 8th round pick in 2015, he hasn't earned any ichi-gun time on his own and has a 9.99 ERA in 24.1 ni-gun innings. 

P Chun-Lin Kuo: Kuo has been roster filler since 2017, where he gambled on himself in the 2017 World Baseball Classic and failed in his only outing against Israel. By not attending camp and training with Taiwan's national team before the 2017 season, majority of the Lions pitchers passed him on the depth chart. He spent last year injured and has only appeared in seven ni-gun games. He has a 5.93 ERA in 13.2 innings out of the bullpen. A once promising amateur prospect no longer has upside at age 26.  

P Tomomi Takahashi: Once viewed as one of the more dominant closers, his career in NPB has been a flash in the pan. A strong 2014 season on a bad team while having a good first half of 2015, but the wheels fell off when he blew his first save that year. Takahashi has never been the same and still is nowhere impressive since coming off Tommy John surgery. Now he's 30 and it's likely that he's peaked already.  

P Yusuke Tamamura: Tamamura has yet to appear in an ichi-gun game despite being in his fourth season with the Lions. Drafted one year removed from high school in 2014, he mostly started ni-gun games. He has only appeared in eight ni-gun games for 2018 and it's possible he's fallen out of favor. Tamamura is only 23, but remember it wasn't long ago when Isamu Sato was also on the senryokugai list at this age. 

P Takuya Toyoda: Toyoda is currently with the ichi-gun team at the time of this writing, but this former shakaijin is nothing special or impressive. He didn't play an ichi-gun game at all in 2017 and has only been put in for low leverage in 2018. Toyoda is also 31 years old, but has been decent in ni-gun for the few games he's appeared in.  

C Komei Fujisawa: Fujisawa was a former ikusei pick promoted to the 70-man roster years ago. He will turn 29 this fall and is the oldest catcher among those in ni-gun. 

C Shota Nakata: Nakata is a year younger than Fujisawa, but like the latter, he doesn't hit well and serves more as a mentor to the Lions ni-gun pitchers. Maybe a future coach if Masato Saito is promoted? 

IF Kyohei Nagae: Nagae is mostly a defensive replacement who has a weak bat. He has stellar defense, but it's possible he has fallen out of favor for others who can hit. Even in ni-gun, Nagae is only hitting .178, which won't cut it. With only four ichi-gun games in 2018, this would be a career low for him. Only time will tell if the Lions will get rid of him or not. 

OF Ryo Sakata: A once promising outfielder had his career hampered by an injury and never recovered after 2013. He hit well in ni-gun last year to stay up, but at age 32, there is no upside. Could be a decent pinch hitter, but not worth an everyday starter like he was given like the beginning of 2016. He only played 11 ichi-gun games in 2017 and hasn't played in 2018, showing that Hatsuhiko Tsuji sees him as an inherited player not needed. 

OF Masato Kumashiro: Kumashiro made the opening day roster for his versatility to play on the outfield and infield, but it appears Shogo Saito has beaten him out. He's not a bad depth option, but Kumashiro isn't young at 29 years old. If the Lions want to get younger, he's likely gone. 

OF Kazuo Matsui: Matsui's time as a player should be dwindling down assuming this is a retirement year. On the field, he's only appeared in 14 ichi-gun games with only a few decent at-bats. If he wants to stay around, it should be as a coach. He should get a great retirement ceremony for his long career in baseball. Assuming he's played a role in developing players and bats, Matsui should stick with the Lions organization.  

IF Ernesto Mejia: Probably the most controversial one listed here, but Mejia is expendable. The Lions are stuck with him through 2019 as he signed a three-year extension in the middle of the 2016 season. It's looking like a huge mistake given the rise of Hotaka Yamakawa as Mejia fell off in 2017. Mejia has only played in about half of the ichi-gun games in 2018 and appears mostly against left-handed pitchers as a DH. He has not appeared in the field as Yamakawa has remained the starting 1B. 

Mejia will not get traded during the season, but the Lions probably wish to find a taker for his contract as they'll be paying him ¥500 million in 2019. He's the highest paid player and will likely have that distinction next year too. If the Hanshin Tigers give up on Willin Rosario and Efren Navarro, the Lions should try to call them and make an offer after the 2018 season. 

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