MLB’s Japanese Dream Team (Part 1: The Starting 9)

Big news, everybody, I’m writing about baseball again!

“Oh…. Joy.”

Sure, my insights into the All-Star Game last year were ignored by just about everybody except me, but I’ll be damned if that’s going to stop me.

I’m sure Axl Rose would agree.

Anyways, with all the hysteria about Masahiro Tanaka coming over from Japan and signing with the Yankees (Because they had SUCH good luck with Kei Igawa and Hideki Irabu), I decided to do a dream team of Japanese players who have come over from Asia to play in Major League Baseball. The team includes five starters, a closer, right and left-handed setup men, four other relievers, a starting lineup with a DH, two backup infielders, and two backup outfielders. There is no backup catcher, since there’s only been one Japanese catcher who has played in the big leagues, specifically:

Catcher: Kenji Johjima

 KenjiJohjimaLead.jpg Japanese teams: Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks (1995-2005) Hanshin Tigers (2010-2012)

  MLB team: Seattle Mariners (2006-2009)

   One of the many Japanese players to play for the M’s (And most certainly not the only one on this Dream Team), Johjima was signed to a three year deal during the team’s rebuilding phase in the 05-06 offseason. The rebuilding has… Yet to pay off, but Johjima had a fine couple of seasons in Seattle, before playing very poorly in ’08 and opting out of his contract in 2009 to return to Japan.

Holy shit!

First Baseman: Tadahito Iguchi

 Japanese teams: Fukuoka Daiei Hawks (1997-2004) Chiba Lotte Marines (2009-Present)

  MLB teams: Chicago White Sox (2005-2007) Philadelphia Phillies (2007, 2008) San Diego Padres (2008)

I’m kinda cheating with this entry, since Iguchi played his entire American career as a second baseman. However, since returning to Japan in 2009, he has played a lot of first base for the Chiba Lotte Marines, so I’m working with what I’ve got here.

Iguchi signed with the White Sox just in time to win the World Series with them in 2005. He played very well for the Sox over  the next few seasons before being traded to the Phillies midway through the 2007 season. After playing atrociously for the Padres in ’08 and being released, Iguchi signed with the Phillies again and played four games with them, helping them out a teeny bit on their way to the 2008 title. Along with So Taguchi and (Oddly enough) the late Hideki Irabu, he is one of the only Japanese players two win multiple World Series rings (Although he wasn’t a member of the Phillies postseason roster).

  Second Base: Kazuo “Kaz” Matsui

  Japanese Teams: Seibu Lions (1995-2003), Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles (2011-       Present)

  MLB Teams: New York Mets (2004-2006) Colorado Rockies (2006-2007) Houston Astros (2008-2010)

  Pretty much the definition of your generic steady utility infielder, Kaz Matsui was an MVP and Gold Glover during his eight years with the Seibu Lions, Matsui was signed by the Mets, who hoped that he would be at least a solid offensive contributor and a Gold Glove candidate. Unfortunately, Matsui had a slash line of .256/.308/.363 (Which is bad), and wasn’t even that good defensively. When you consider that he had also (Temporarily) supplanted fan favourite Jose Reyes at shortstop, and that he was starting to get injured more than the average bear, and you had a player that was starting to draw the ire of pissed of Mets fans (On the bright side, he did become the only player to hit a home run in his first plate appearance of his first three seasons). He was moved over to second base (Where he was average defensively) and was traded to the Rockies, where he played very, very well for the next one and a half years (Thank you Coors Field!) and spent the last three years of his career with Houston (Where he fell back down to earth. Go fig.) before being released and returning to play with the current defending Japanese champions, the Golden Eagles.

 Third Base: Akinori Iwamura

  Japanese Teams: Tokyo Yakult Swallows (1997-2006, 2013), Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles (2011-2012)

  MLB Teams: Tampa Bay Rays (2007-2009) Pittsburgh Pirates (2010) Oakland Athletics (2010)

   Yes, I know that Iwamura played most of his big league career at second base, and he probably was better than poor Kaz Matsui, but he did play his first year in MLB at third base, and there’s no way I’m giving a starting lineup spot to Norihiro Nakamura.

Iwamura’s three year, $7.7 million dollar contract with the former Devil Rays was overshadowed by the massive contract the Red Sox gave to his friend, Daisuke Matsuzaka, but I think that, in hindsight, we could all agree that Iwamura’s contract was a little more cost-efficient. Aki played quite well with the Rays, with an OPS in the mid- .700’s, and was a part of the Rays’ wonderful 2008 season, during which they won the American League pennant, and lost to the Phillies in the World Series. He was also notable for his usage of a glove made out of crocodile skin. That’s pretty badass, right?

  Shortstop: Munenori Kawasaki

  Japanese Team: Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks (2001-2011)

  MLB Teams: Seattle Mariners (2012) Toronto Blue Jays (2013-Present)

  Well, if you ever wanted an example of how thin the market for Japanese shortstops has been…

  To be fair, nobody was really expecting Kawasaki to be a superstar. The Japanese All-Star and Golden Glove winner signed a minor league deal with the Seattle Mariners prior to the 2012 season, and made the club out of spring training as a utility infielder. Things went downhill from there, however, as he only hit .192 during the regular season and had an OPS of .459. For those who don’t understand baseball stats, just know that all the entertaining GIFs in the world could not even come close to make that excusable.

After the M’s released him, he signed a minor league deal with my Toronto Blue Jays and started the season off with the AAA Buffalo Bisons. After the injury to the aforementioned Jose Reyes, Kawasaki was called up to the (Disappointing as all Hell) big league club, and instantly endeared himself to suffering Torontonians, with his energetic, adorable personality, and his critical role in the eleven game winning streak that the Jays went on in July. He cooled off drastically, as did the Jays, but he did win a spring training invitation for next year from the Jays, so we probably haven’t seen the last of Moony Kawasaki.

  Left Fielder: So Taguchi

  Japanese Teams: Orix BlueWave (1992-2001) Orix Buffaloes (2010-2011)

  American Teams: St. Louis Cardinals (2002-2007) Philadelphia Phillies (2008) Chicago      Cubs (2009)

  This shy, hard working utility outfielder was already well into his thirties when he signed  with the Cards in 2002, and was just about an elder statesman when he finally had his first season where he topped 100 games, at the age of 34.

Taguchi became a fan favourite in St. Louis after a couple of years of toiling in the minors, unusual for a Japanese signing, but then again, he was kind of mediocre in Japan anyways. In a nice surprise, Taguchi turned out to be an excellent defensive-minded backup outfielder, with a solid bat to boot. His modest, shy personality endeared him to the Missouri fanbase, and solidified his place in Cardinals history by hitting the go-ahead home run in the ninth inning of game 2 of the NLCS, which was unusual, considering: A) He hit it off the great Billy Wagner, and B) he isn’t exactly Hank Aaron, especially not in 2006. After awful stints with the Phillies and the Cubs in 2008 and 2009, respectfully (Although he did win his second World Series with the Phils) he played two subpar seasons in Japan, before retiring in 2012.

   Kosuke Fukudome - 2008 - cropped.jpg Center Field: Kosuke Fukodome

     Japanese Teams: Chunichi Dragons (1998-2007) Hanshin Tigers (2013-Present)

    MLB Teams: Chicago Cubs (2008-2011) Cleveland Indians (2011) Chicago White Sox (2012)

   That sound you hear is the sound of Cubs fans screaming in fury and/or sobbing.

    Just kidding. I’m pretty sure they don’t read my blog. Anyways, I put Fukodome at center field, even though he mostly played at right field, because I felt that he was better then either of the two backups, and right field was already taken by, well, you’ll see.

Fukodome, a superstar with the Chunichi Dragons,  was signed by the Cubs prior to the 2008 season, in the hopes that he would become the next big Asian superstar. Needless to say, it didn’t turn out that way, but the reality is that Fukodome was a solid outfielder during his 3+ seasons with the Cubbies. His pedestrian batting average dissapointed fans, but his On-Base Percentage was actually pretty great, at .369. Sure, he didn’t exactly set the world on fire on the base paths or defensively in right or center field, and he didn’t even really come close to hitting the 21 home runs he averaged in Japan, but I can’t help wondering if his awful slide during the second half of 2008 tainted the rest of what could have been a solid big league career.

 Right Field: Ichiro Suzuki

 Japanese Team: Orix BlueWave (1992-2000)

  MLB Teams: Seattle Mariners (2001-2012) New York Yankees (2012-Present)

  Honestly? Was there ever any doubt?

  The only member of this dream team that will likely be elected into the American baseball hall of fame (Although I would NOT count out Yu Darvish as a future Hall of Famer), Ichiro is, by far,  the most famous, most successful player to come over from Asia.

Honestly, I could go on and on about Ichiro. He’s one of my favourite non-Blue Jay players, and my first ever non-little league jersey was a Mariners jersey with Ichiro’s name on the back. However, I don’t feel like prolonging this post any more than necessary, as it’s already hella long, so I’ll just leave you with his Baseball Reference and Wikipedia pages.

 Designated Hitter: Hideki “Godzilla” Matsui 

 Japanese Team: Yomiuri Giants (1993-2002)

 MLB Teams: New York Yankees (2003-2009) Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (2010) Oakland Athletics (2011) Tampa Bay Rays (2012)

 If Ichiro was the best position player to play in the big leagues, the man they call “Godzilla” is probably number two. (Fact: Matsui’s nickname was originally a mean joke concerning his skin condition, but it has since become associated with his offensive prowess) The power-hitting outfielder first came to the attention of the American media during the strike of ’94, when bored Americans started following the Japan Series (Japan’s equivalent of the World Series), which featured Matsui’s team, the eventual champion Yomiuri Giants.

Matsui turned town a contract offer from the Giants in 2001 and later signed with the Yanks before the 2003 season. He went on to have a wonderful seven-year career with the Yankees, during which he came very close to beating out Angel Berroa for the 2003 Rookie of the Year Award, shifted to DH after playing poor defence, was elected to two All-Star Games, and won the World Series in 2009, also winning the World Series MVP Award that year. Before signing with the Angels and having a solid year in Anaheim and fading out with the A’s and the Rays.

 To be continued…

The Story So Far- The 2013 Toronto Blue Jays


The 2013 Major League Baseball season has so far been pretty damn good. There have been pleasant surprises, such as Chris Davis of the Orioles and Matt Harvey of the Mets, as well as a good amount of more of the same. (Check out who`s leading the AL East right now. Makes you weep, huh?)

Seen Here: A powerful snapshot of the power of optimism.

However, for some fans, 2013 has been a lost season that has not really been worth following. The Astros suck of course, but in addition to them, the Brewers are in dead last in their division as of this writing, while the ever hapless Cubbies are just a few games ahead of them. The mighty Southern California teams (The Angels and Dodgers. No, not the Padres.) have both looked completely lost throughout the first two months. (Although they are slowly but surely clawing their ways back.) As for the Miami Marlins, it`s so hard to believe that they won a World Series ten years ago, before Jeffrey Loria ushered in the revolutionary new “50 years of darkness” rebuilding technique.

” We finished in last place, figure it out.”

That`s true Jeffrey, but you know who else finished in last place? Every team ever. Including the goddamn Yankees.

The year: 1966. It was a better time.

However, I don`t really have any right to criticize the awfulness of the above-mentioned teams. Why, you ask? Well, myself being Canadian and a baseball fan, I chose many years ago to follow Canada`s team..a team that thus far has been one of the biggest busts in MLB history.

These guys, of course.

On an unrelated note, does anyone know a good Jays blog?

Yes, I am very sad to admit that I have had the misfortune to be a Toronto Blue Jays fan during the 2013 season. From November to April, I had my hopes at a realistically low level, rapidly elevate, elevate just a little bit more, and come to a fever pitch, nearly giving myself and all Canadian baseball fans heart attacks from the anticipation. As soon as April 1st rolled around though, these hopes plummeted like Manny Ramirez`s career, and are currently at a level of meagerness usually reserved for junkies and elementary school teachers.

So how did we get here exactly? How did the Bluebirds go from being Canada`s golden boys to being a laughingstock of epic proportions?

It`s not like Canada has produced any other laughingstocks…

Well, I`ll get to that, but first of all, here`s a timeline of the Jays from November til now.

  • October 21, 2012: The Jays let John Farrell go to the Red Sox in return for Mike Aviles. Indifferent shrugs abound.
  • November 8, 2012: Maicer Izturis is signed to a three year contract.
  • On the same day, the Jays acquired pothead and part-time relief pitcher Jeremy Jeffress from the KC Royals. Afterwords, they trade away Aviles and catcher Yan Gomes to the Cleveland Racist Logos in return for Esmil Rogers, one of the few survivors of the massive Coors Field Pitching Massacres.

Every night, Esmil is haunted by the knowledge that while he got out of Denver, Christian Friedrich, Alex White, and Carlos Torres would never see the light of another day…

  •   On November 14, 2012, the Blue Jays shock the baseball world by staging a daring daylight robbery of the Miami Marlins. The team infiltrated Marlins Park and made away with Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle, Josh Johnson, Emilio Bonifacio, and John Buck, for some reason. However, the daring attack came at a cost… Pitchers Henderson Alvarez, Justin Nicolino, and Anthony Desclafani as well as position players Adeiny Hechavarria, Jake Marisnick, and Jeff Mathis were captured and imprisoned in the abyss known as the Miami Marlins organisation.

They let the Marlins have Yunel Escobar though, because fuck him.

  • November 16, 2012: The Jays sign Melky Cabrera to a two year, 16 million dollar contract. Jays fans respond by whistling, pretending not to notice.
  • November 20, 2012: John Gibbons is awoken from his four year slumber when Alex Anthopoulos offers him the position of manager. He only accepts when he sees that Ted Lilly is with the Dodgers, and that Frank Thomas and Shea Hillenbrand are out of baseball.
  • December 17, 2012: The Blue Jays, in a trade that didn`t seem self-destructive at the time, trade top prospects Travis D`Arnaud and Noah Syndergaard as well as John Buck to the Mets in exchange for folk hero/knuckle-baller/Cy Young winner R.A. Dickey  and catcher Josh Thole. Some people questioned whether or no the dome in Toronto may have a negative effect on R.A`s knuckle-ball. We called these people pompous shitheads.
  • March 14, 2013: Mariners burnout/official Japanese person Munenori Kawasaki is invited to Spring Training.
  • The Blue Jays send the following players to the excellent 2013 World Baseball Classic: Jose Reyes, Edwin Encarnacion, Moises Sierra (All playing for the champions, Dominican Republic)  Brett Lawrie, Adam Loewen (Both for Canada) R.A. Dickey, and J.P. Arencibia. (Poor, poor Team USA) J.P. cannot Handle R.A`s knuckle-ball throughout the tournament. This was apparently not seen as a sign of concern.
  • April 2, 2013: The Jays lose to the Indians 4-1 on Opening Day. Lesson learned: Don`t let J.P. Arencibia catch a knuckle-ball.
  • April 3, 2013: The first Jays home run is hit by Maicer Izturis. Jays fans scratch their head in puzzlement. Later,Jose Bautista hits a home run to negate this. The Jays still lose.
  • April 12, 2013: A poor start is made worse when Jose Reyes is injured, which sucks, considering he was the only Jay doing anything well at the time.
  • April 13, 2013: Time stops and the world watches in equal parts amusement and confusion as Munenori Kawasaki makes his Blue Jays debut.
  • April 16, 2013: Brett Lawrie makes his season debut.
  • May 7, 2013: The baseball world looks on in horror as J.A. Happ is struck in the head by a liner. While not a Brandon McCarthy situation, he is still placed on the 60-Day DL.
  • May 9, 2013: Said baseball world watches in even more sickening horror as Ricky Romero takes the mound.
  • May 22, 2013: Jose Bautista goes 4-for-4 with two home runs and a walk-off single against the Orioles.
  • May 25, 2013: Lawrie flips his batting gloves at umpires, gets ejected.
  • May 26, 2013: Lawrie yells at Adam Lind for not scoring on a not very deep pop fly to Nick Markakis. Jays fans begin to suspect that Brett is a little bit of a douche.

This guy? Naaaah.

  • Same Day: Munenori Kawasaki hits a walk-off base hit against the Orioles and reassures the world that he is, in fact, Japanese.

  • May 29, 2013: Brett Lawrie is injured sliding into second base.
  • June 1, 2013: After a 17th inning loss to the Padres, I write this article and contemplate suicide the whole time.

Despite most of what I said, it hasn’t been all bad for the Blue Jays.  Believe it or not, some things have gone right for the BJ`s. For instance:

  1. No matter how bad Munenori Kawasaki sucks at hitting, he will always be my hero.
  2. Despite his struggles, doesn`t R.A. Dickey seem like a terrific dude?
  3. Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion are both hitting like tanks.
  4. Casey Janssen is lights-out as the closer
  5. Our minor league system, though depleted, is not that bad.
  6. Our bullpen is pretty good. Aaron Loup, Esmil Rogers, Steve Delabar, Brett Cecil and Juan Perez have all impressed me to varying degrees.
  7. Adam Lind is back!
  8. Melky Cabrera actually hasn`t been that bad. Not particularly good, either, but not AWFUL.
  9. Chad Jenkins!…
  10. Alex Anthopoulos has shown the ability to pull off some pretty good deals.

On the other hand:

  1. It`s a well known fact that high expectations + failure= fan depression. Fan depression= alcohol consumption. Alcohol consumption + Canadians = unruly, retarded fans. 
  2. While R.A. Dickey may be a terrific dude, a 5.18 ERA isn`t exactly what we expected.
  3. While Joey Bats and Eddy E crush home runs, so do Colby Rasmus and J.P. Arencibia….about once every five strikeouts.
  4. While we used to have Aaron Sanchez, Justin Nicolino, and Noah Syndergaard in our minor league system, we now have just Sanchez, and not much to show for the departures of Nicolino and Syndergaard.
  5. Chad Jenkins!…Just got demoted to AAA in favour of Ramon Ortiz! This is why we can’t have nice things!
  6. The good deals don`t mean shit if the players don`t deliver.
  7. AA also seems to have the tendency to panic and jump the gun on bringing people up. How else do you explain poor Sean Nolin?
  8. Can  someone please get Mr. Sergio Santos a new elbow? This one keeps shorting out on him.

While all the above reasons are enough to guarantee a losing record, the Blue Jays biggest problem is the complete and utter lack of starting pitching. The following is a list of starting pitchers the Jays have used, from most to least innings pitched.

  1. R.A. Dickey has under performed since the WBC,  going 4-8, with a 5.18 ERA in 14 games started for the Jays and Team USA. His knuckle-ball is non-existent at home, and he has been battling neck and back problems.
  2. Mark Buehrle has crashed hard at age 34, with a 5.51 ERA in 67 Innings pitched. He only allowed three runs in his last thirteen innings though, so this might be a turning point. Then again, I’ve said that many times before.
  3. Brandon Morrow is injured, once again. Just a few hours ago, he was placed on the D.L, but it`s not like he was wowing anybody with a 5.63 ERA. His strikeout rate is way down too (9.4 K/9 Career, 7.0 K/9 in 2013.)
  4. J.A. Happ actually had the best start of any Jays pitcher, with a comparatively low ERA of 4.91, before he got hit in the head with a line drive . He is currently on the 60-day Disabled List.
  5. Esmil Rogers is doing okay as a relief pitcher, and went three scoreless innings in a spot start (His first since 2011).
  6. Ramon Ortiz made two appearances as a long reliever before surprising everyone with two starts in which he had a     1.50 ERA in 13 innings. He then came crashing back down to earth, contracting a 5.01 ERA and being demoted, though he has been called back up at the expense of Chad Jenkins.
  7. Josh Johnson has been plagued by injuries and poor performances, with a 6.86 ERA in 19.2 innings and a lengthy stint on the D.L. that just ended.
  8. Chad Jenkins has been a really pleasant surprise, eh? with a 3.60 ERA in 15 innings, I think it`s safe to say that we may finally have a good, consistent in out rota- ah, shit, he was demoted to make room for Ortiz.
  9. Poor, poor Ricky Romero. Formerly a top prospect and subsequently an All-Star, Ricky`s struggles with everything about pitching have gotten him demoted to Class A Dunedin, promoted to the bigs after only one start, and subsequently demoted to AAA Buffalo after posting a 12.46 ERA in 4.1 innings. Things aren`t looking likely to get any better either, with a 9.45 ERA with the Bisons.
  10. Yes, Aaron Laffey had a spot start with us, allowing 2 runs in 2.2 innings. He was promptly released.
  11. How about poor Sean Nolin?  called up from AA New Hampshire WAY to early, he was massacred in his debut, allowing six earned runs in only 1.1 innings.

So, this brings us to the big question: With all these injuries and bad performances, is there any chance that the Jays make the playoffs? Well, let me think. Assuming that Jose Reyes comes back healthy, Joey Bats, Adam Lind and Eddy E keep raking, J.P. and Colby Rasmus cut down on strikeouts, Brett Lawrie comes back healthy and wises up, Dickey, Johnson, Buehrle and Morrow remain healthy and perform better, and Casey Janssen keeps doing what he does so well, then yes, but I think that`s a very long shot. It can be done, but I`m not counting on it.

So, panic time now, right? Time to renounce the Jays for the bums they are and become a Tigers fan?   No. Absolutely not. Yes, there is no light at the end of the tunnel this year, but as the cliche goes, there`s always next year. AA will learn from  his mistakes, we will likely still have Reyes, Bautista, Encarnacion and Janssen next year, and Aaron Sanchez is getting closer and closer to the bigs with every start. So peace be with you, long suffering Jays fans. We’ve endured terrible years before, we can (hopefully) do it again. Then, in three years or so, when we’ve won the World Series for the third time, we can chalk up 2013 as a learning experience.

So be patient. Remember that it`s always darkest before the dawn. If these are the Jays’ darkest hours, then prosperity must be coming soon.

Until then, please enjoy Munenori Kawasaki and pray we give him another contract.