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Jim Allen

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Yomiuri's history of agony, ecstacy

by Jim Allen (Mar 19, 2008)

Last winter's shopping spree stirs memories of Yomiuri's previous big-name acquisitions. Since 1994, when Hiromitsu Ochiai joined Yomiuri as a free agent, the Giants have acquired 32 name players from other organizations.

Ochiai's acquisition helped the Giants to a Japan Series championship and reach the Series two years later, but a steady flow of veteran talent did not create an equal amount of success on the field.

Ochiai was replaced in 1997 by the acquisitions of Pacific League first basemen Kazuhiro Kiyohara and Hiroo Ishii--whose career was all but over. The Giants also signed successful Lotte starter Eric Hillman--who turned out to have just six more innings in his arm. The Giants fell into fourth place for the first time in six seasons and would not win another pennant until 2000.

That year, Yomiuri hit the jackpot with two high-profile free agents playing key roles as the Giants won the league and the Series.

In that campaign, third baseman Akira Eto and lefty Kimiyasu Kudo became the first incoming Giants of the free-agent era to win Best IX Awards, while Kudo snagged a Golden Glove--the only one ever by a name player after joining the Giants. The team also got good production from discarded Seibu first baseman Domingo Martinez and unwanted Tigers lefty Darrell May.

Kudo bounced back from his worst season ever in 2001 with a solid 170-1/3-inning, 2.91-ERA effort in 2002 as the Giants once more won it all, but things quickly went south when three-time Central League MVP Hideki Matsui filed for free agency and moved to the majors.

The Giants continued to add one name after another to no avail. Roberto Petagine, CL MVP in 2001 and a four-time Best IX winner at first base, joined in 2003 along with closer Rodney Pedraza--who like Hillman had nothing left for the Giants.

Tuffy Rhodes, the PL's 2001 MVP and a five-time Best IX winner joined in 2004 along with fellow PL star Hiroki Kokubo. Ten years after Ochiai started the move toward big-name new Giants, Rhodes won the third Best IX Award and the first home run crown by a new name Giant. Between 1994 and 2007, the Giants acquired 32 players with good resumes from other clubs. Those players joined having already won nine MVP Awards, 53 Best IX honors and 28 Golden Gloves.

The hitters had amassed eight batting titles and had led their leagues in runs five times, in home runs 15 times and RBIs 14 times. The pitchers came with seven ERA titles under their belts, with 1,029 career wins and 492 saves prior to becoming Giants.

Although as a group, the new veterans won pennants and Japan Series rings about 50 percent more often with Yomiuri, none has won a batting title or led the league in RBIs, runs or ERA.

In 45 individual seasons, incoming veteran pitchers have saved a total of 39 games since 1994, while winning 146 games and losing 136.

With a few exceptions, it has not been a pretty picture. It wasn't until last autumn that Michihiro Ogasawara became the first acquired name player to win an MVP award with the Giants.


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