Jim Albright / the japanese insider
The 2007 Review of NPB Free Agents, Posted Players, and Players to Watch
By Jim Albright
Note: Player salaries are calculated based upon the December 19, 2006 exchange rate of about 118 yen to the dollar, or $84.79 per 10,000 Yen.
A. 2007 NPB Free Agents
The guys in this section are either former major leaguers who are free agents, at least arguably played at a major league starting level, are free agents under the age of 35, or have given serious indications they want to go to the majors.
He resigned with his team, so he's not coming this year. However, though the deal is for four years, he apparently has the option of going to the majors if he wishes. He would have had a poor 2004, but he would have been a valuable pitcher in the majors the rest of the past five years due to fine control and doing a solid job of keeping the ball in the park.
The Red Sox have signed this lefty reliever to a contract. He's had a pattern over the past five years of being a solid major leaguer in even numbered years and horrid in odd numbered years. He's got to break that pattern to help the Sox this year. It's possible they like him against lefties and he'd be effective as that kind of specialist
He was a free agent, but signed a 4 year deal with the Yomiuri Giants. However, he's been on a pace for the Japanese HOF, so I wanted to see how he'd have stacked up in the majors. His OBPs except in an off year in 2005 have been excellent, and he's certainly hit well if he was a 3B. As a 1B, his power numbers would have been a little on the low side.
There's only one season of the past five he'd even qualify as mediocre by major league standards. The rest are even worse. Pass.
B. NPB Players Posted for 2007 MLB Season
The biggest fish among the major league imports this year. If it weren't for the abusive way he was used in the past two seasons, I'd have few reservations about him beyond the standard ones for pitchers. However, he averaged 144 pitches per game in 2005 and "eased off" to 138 per game in 2006. It seems his arm has survived that abuse, but I hate to see that kind of thing in any pitcher's history. He probably won't do quite as well as the projection, which is to a neutral major league park rather than to Fenway, but he's definitely got the potential to be in the low 3's in ERA there.
The Yankees won his rights and signed him after the Hanshin Tigers posted him. I'd say the key for him will be keeping the ball in major league parks. He'll probably get some help in that respect from being a lefty in Yankee Stadium. If you look at the past five seasons, a major problem in the two that were subpar (2004 and 2005) were gopher balls--the other problem would have been giving up over a hit an inning. If he keeps those issues in check, he should be fine. If not, it could be a long season for him.
The Devil Rays won his rights and signed him. Other than his 2003 season when he suffered a wrist injury, he's been a heck of a player in the past five seasons. I expect him to be a bright spot for Tampa.
C. NPB Players to Watch
The players in the preceding sections are either free agents, have been posted, or at least have a commitment from the NPB team they play for that they will be posted. The following players aren't going to the majors in 2007.
The standards for a player to make this section are that first, the player must be less than 30 years old on April 1, 2007, and meet one of the following two criteria: a) have accumulated at least 200 rtg2 points in his career to date or b) be a pitcher with at least 100 career estimated win shares (EWS) in his career to date. The first standard eliminates those players who are too old to be regarded as hot prospects for the majors in 2006 or after. The second set of requirements are designed to ensure that the players selected are rather high quality talents in Japan.
He'll be a free agent after the 2007 season if he doesn't resign with his team during the year. He wasn't healthy in 2004, but otherwise, you've got to love this caliber of play from a CF with a rep for a good glove. The past two seasons, he's hit like Bobby Abreu to go with that glove. You have to love that combination.
He's had two straight seasons of decline in the power department, which makes 2004's results look more and more like a fluke. His OBP has declined each of the past three years as well. If he doesn't perform above 2006 levels, the only way I see the majors having any interest is if they like his defense at catcher. Given that his Yomiuri Giants may be looking for a better defensive catcher if he doesn't pick up the offense, I have my doubts in that regard.