The filing period for free agency in the Nippon Professional Baseball league ended two days ago. Or since it was Japan, I guess that was three days ago, what with the massive time difference. Actually, I think it's already Spring Training over there. Regardless, the ten-day window for players to declare free agency produced a grand total of just seven players, mostly because the NPB owners have far tighter labor controls than MLB owners. What, did Curt Flood and Marvin Miller never make it across the Pacific?
Anyway, the good people at NPB Tracker are keeping us abreast of the seven fellas and trying to make guesses as to which of them will sally forth to the welcoming bosom of Major League Baseball. Remember these three names, folks.
- Koji Uehara (P, Yomiuri Giants)
- Kenshin Kawakami (P, Chunichi Dragons)
- Ken Takahashi (P, Hiroshima Carp)
Of these three gents, Koji Uehara and Kenshin Kawakami are the most accomplished and most likely to make a splash in America in 2009. (Good news, Braves fans. Frank Wren has scouted 'em both) Uehara was a member of the Japanese National Team in the 2006 World Baseball Classic, collecting a tournament-high 16 strikeouts in 17 innings pitched and two wins, including a semifinal victory over South Korea. He'll be 34 on Opening Day and has battled shoulder problems over his career, but he's got good control and a 6.7 K/BB ratio over his career. According to Scouting Book, he throws a 90 MPH fastball, a slider, and a forkball. I'm dubbing him the Japanese Dave Stewart.
Kawakami was rookie of the year in 1998 and pitched for the Chunichi Dragons his entire career, leading them to the NPB championship in 2007. He is not a dominant fastball pitcher, and Scouting Book uses the word crafty to describe him, so I'm going to refer to him as the Japanese Paul Byrd. He also has a blog but has not joined Shaq in starting a Twitter account...yet.
Patrick at NPB Tracker says this about Takahashi, "Veteran lefty wants to try MLB. The Mets seem like a logical fit." Therefore, he must be extremely talented and yet destined to be a massive failure.