Welcome to update #1 of the offseason. The news is a little sparse but there are still several stories worth following as they will impact the 2024 season in a big way.
Up first is an offseason trade between the Yomiuri Giants and the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks. The former is in need of pitching, so they acquired righty Keisuke Izumi and submariner Rei Takahashi from the Hawks. In return, they sent import slugger Adam Walker off to a team that needs to generate a little more offense. Walker was not the most adept outfielder, and will probably spend most of his playing time as the Hawks’ designated hitter. The Giants also picked up pitcher Daisuke Kondoh from the Orix Buffaloes for cash considerations.
The Hawks have re-signed import reliever Roberto Osuna to a four-year deal estimated to be worth ¥ 4 billion (roughly $27 million). The 28-year-old Mexican righty had a microscopic 0.92 ERA last season in 49 innings of work.
There are four big-name players set to test the domestic free-agent market this off-season:
Sachiya Yamasaki (31, LHP, Orix) recorded 11 wins and had a 3.25 ERA in 2023. He is also one of the better-hitting pitchers playing in Japan. Reportedly interested are the Yakult Swallows, Yokohama DeNA Baystars, Yomiuri Giants, Nippon-Ham Fighters, and the Hawks.
Kenta Ishida (30, LHP, Yokohama) had a 4-9 record with a 3.97 ERA in 2023. That is not a fair representation of his career, as he had kept his ERA under three in 3 of the previous four seasons. There is no word on where he might sign.
Hotaka Yamakawa (31, 1B, Seibu) has 218 career home runs and finished with the highest total in the Pacific League in 2018, 2019, and 2022. He was also a member of Samurai Japan at the 2023 World Baseball Classic. He faced charges of sexual assault earlier this year but was acquitted. The Hawks are rumored to be interested, and his old team has also reportedly offered him a one-year contract as well.
Ryoma Nishikawa (28, OF, Hiroshima) is good for 20 doubles, 10 home runs, and a .300 average. So consistent is he that he has kept in that neighborhood for each of the past six seasons. He has expressed an interest in signing with a Pacific League team.
As for players who are hoping to move from Nippon Professional Baseball to Major League Baseball, there appear to be four as well.
Yoshinobu Yamamoto (25, RHP, Orix) is a big-ticket item and hardly needs an introduction. He has won the Eiji Sawamura Award each of the past three seasons and also claimed the PL MVP in 2021 and 2022. He might win it again this year – that announcement will take place next week.
Shota Imanaga (30, LHP, Yokohama) has averaged a strikeout per inning and an ERA just a shade over 3 over the course of his career. His walk totals are also quite low.
Naoyuki Uwasawa (29, RHP, Nippon-Ham) does not have the gas that Yamamoto and Imanaga do (averaging just 6.56 K/9 in 2023) but has stayed in the rotation for three straight seasons and has kept his ERA around the three-mark. He, along with Imanaga and Yamamoto, will be posted by their teams and will thereby cost MLB clubs more than just the value of their contracts.
Yuki Matsui (28, LHP, Rakuten) is the lone reliever of the crop and is also an international free agent. He has good velocity and off-speed pitches and has struck out 11.73 batters per nine innings in his career. He already has 236 career saves, which is good for 6th all-time in Japan, plus his ERA has been under 2 for four of the past five seasons.
Those are some of the names you can keep your eyes on this winter, whether you are warming up at the MLB hot stove or the NPB kotatsu. We’ll be back in two weeks with NPB Awards results and more.