The turnaround between the end of this past season and the beginning of next season is rather short, so teams are moving relatively quickly to fill gaps in their rosters. There have been few domestic free agent signings, but a lot of imports who will be taking their talents to Japan in 2021.
First, the Yomiuri Giants have plundered the Yokohama DeNA Baystars, wooing pitcher Shoichi Inoh and outfielder Takayuki Kajitani. The former gets two years, while the latter has a four-year contract in place, and will require the Giants to compensate the Stars with some cash and a player who is left off their 28-man protected list. The transaction will be completed by year’s end.
Veteran outfielder Kosuke Fukudome, who was cut by the Hanshin Tigers at season’s end, will return to his old brood, the Chunichi Dragons, in 2021. Also released by the Tigers was lefty Atsushi Nohmi, who served the team for 16 seasons. He will continue his career as player-coach for the Orix Buffaloes. A third veteran, Seiichi Uchikawa, was left off the SoftBank Hawks’ roster and swooped up by a lesser bird, the Yakult Swallows.
As for new imports joining NPB for the first time in 2021, the list is already quite impressive:
Baystars: Kevin Shackelford (31, P, Reds), Starlin Cordero (22, P, no MLB). Both are on a developmental player deal.
Carp: Kyle Bird (27, P, Rangers), Kevin Cron (27, IF, Diamondbacks), Dovydas Neverauskas (27, P, Pirates)
Swallows: Jose Osuna (28, OF/1B, Pirates), Cy Sneed (28, P, Brewers), Domingo Santana (28, OF, Brewers)
Tigers: Mel Rojas Jr (30, OF, no MLB), Raul Alcantara (28, P, Athletics), Wei-Yin Chen (35, P, Orioles)
Dragons: Randy Rosario (26, P, Cubs), Mike Gerber (28, OF, Giants)
Eagles: Brandon Dixon (28, OF, Tigers), Adam Conley (30, P, Marlins)
Fighters: Robbie Erlin (30, P, Padres), Ronny Rodriguez (28, P, Tigers)
NPB held tryouts on December 7 for players who had been cut loose by their prior employers. Probably the most highlighted man to take swings there in years was 48-year old Tsuyoshi Shinjo, who last played professional baseball in 2006 for the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters. He grounded out to second, walked, grounded out to second, and hit an RBI single to left in his four plate appearances. He set his own deadline of December 13, at which point he said he would give up the comeback dream if he received no offers. Sadly, there were no takers, and he is now on to his next life adventure. With charisma and ambition like Shinjo’s, there is no telling where he might end up next.