Nippon Professional Baseball held its amateur draft on Monday afternoon/evening and the two prized picks went to two of the richer clubs. Meanwhile, a veteran whose return to Japan was supposed to make history went unselected.
As many of you may know, the first round of the NPB Draft is unlike any other. All teams are free to bid on any player they would like. Selections are sometimes “pre-announced” by team managers in the days leading up to the draft, but the final decision comes down to the actual day. All 12 teams submit their selection, and any overlap results in a lottery draw. A team representative picks a ballot out of a clear box, and the lucky team gets to negotiate a contract with the coveted player. In this year’s draft, left-handed pitcher Takahisa Hayakawa (Waseda) and fielder Teruaki Sato (Kindai) were “selected” by four teams each, so their fates as professionals came down to a draw. The Rakuten Eagles obtained Hayakawa (leaving the Lions, Marines and Swallows to resort to Plan B), while the Hanshin Tigers got the rights to Sato (who was also sought after by the Hawks, Giants and Buffaloes).
Meanwhile, earlier this season, the “Tazawa Rule” was abolished by team owners, which meant players who bypassed the NPB Draft to play overseas would become immediately eligible for the next draft upon their return to Japan, instead of having to wait two years (and play independent-league ball in the meantime). This meant former Red Sox reliever Junichi Tazawa was on the list of eligible players to be chosen this year… but not a single team expressed interest in the 34-year old. Either his age was a deterrent, or the owners were not ready to hand him a place in the history books.
Speaking of former major leaguers who will not be playing in NPB next season, Hanshin Tigers reliever Kyuji Fujikawa (Cubs, etc.) has decided to call it a career at season’s end. The same is true of Yakult Swallows reliever Ryota Igarashi (Mets, etc.). Both are in their 40s and had highly successful careers in Japan, even if their time in America was not too flashy. Also, Hisashi Iwakuma (Mariners) spent two years with the Yomiuri Giants trying to return from injury, but was unable to complete his endeavor and will hang up his cleats at season’s end. One more former big-leaguer, Hanshin outfielder Kosuke Fukudome (Cubs, etc.) has been told by the team to pack his bags because they would not be welcome in the Tigers locker room next year. The 43-year old, who is the league elder statesman, intends to keep playing in 2021.
In other big news, Yokohama DeNA Baystars manager Alex Ramirez has followed the unwritten rules and decided to step down at season’s end to take responsibility for his club not winning the pennant during his tenure with the team. During his five years, Ramirez has led the team to three playoffs and has a career record right near .500 – nothing to be ashamed of, especially if you know the ‘Stars track record.
Good week: Hawks (5-1), Dragons (5-1)
Bad week: Fighters (1-4-1), Marines (1-5)
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