The Yokohama BayStars, a team that once prospered like no other from imported talent, may have found their magic touch again this year.
Throughout the 1980s and '90s, no team got more production out of its imports than Yokohama.
This past offseason, the 'Stars signed first baseman Dan Johnson, who has the best resume among this year's new position players, and a pair of power pitchers, Tom Mastny and Les Walrond.
While none of this year's imports come with sterling credentials, the BayStars' trio may be the best of the lot.
Johnson is a 29-year-old who does not have big power but should be a good fit in Yokohama. He brings a high on-base percentage from the left side of the plate to a lineup that was last in Japan at reaching base and is anchored by the right-handed bats of Shuichi Murata and Seiichi Uchikawa.
Mastny, a 28-year-old righty, has bounced between Triple-A and the majors with the Cleveland Indians without embarrassing himself. Walrond, a 32-year-old lefty, has sparkled at Triple-A without getting a real shot in the majors.
If one, two or all three make a splash, the next challenge will be to keep them. In this decade, the BayStars have added just two big names to their long roster of success stories: slugging first baseman Tyrone Woods and flame-throwing reliever Marc Kroon.
Woods left in 2005 after two seasons, and Kroon in 2008 after three years.
Another new imported position player with good credentials is Tokyo Yakult's Jamie D'Antona.
Not far behind Johnson, a regular for the Oakland A's in 2007, D'Antona is also a first-baseman without big power. The 26-year-old has shown real quality in Double-A and Triple-A.
The most intriguing foreign acquisitions are 36-year-old right-hander John Wasdin and 35-year-old infielder Edgardo Alfonzo. (See story on Page 12)
Wasdin returns to Japan with the Saitama Seibu Lions after 10 games for the Yomiuri Giants in 2002. He has pitched well in two of the last three seasons.
Alfonzo, a veteran of 1,506 major league games over 12 seasons, comes to Japan with the Yomiuri Giants after two seasons in the independent minors.
Here is a rundown of other offseason signings making their Japan debut, starting with the pitchers.
Chunichi's Nelson Payano is a 26-year-old, left-handed power pitcher who struck out 65 batters in 67 innings in Double-A last season.
The Hawks have gone for height, signing a pair of 2.01-meter right-handers, Brian Falkenborg, 31, and Kameron Loe, 27, and 1.90-meter Justin Germano, who is 26.
Falkenborg, the lone power pitcher of the three, was an effective Triple-A reliever until 2007. Loe has had three useful seasons with the Rangers, while Germano had a good year with the Padres in 2007 and in Triple A last year.
The Golden Eagles have added two right-handed wings to their entourage, Matt Childers and Darrell Rasner. Both have been control pitchers, although Childers, 30, ratcheted up his strikouts by 50 percent (to 9.2 per nine innings) last season when he saved 20 games in Triple-A.
Rasner, 28, has bounced all over the place but has been effective everywhere he's been given a chance.
The Swallows added southpaw balance to a largely right-handed staff with Lee Hye Cheon, 30, and Ricky Barret, 28. Barret is a power pitcher coming off three good seasons of middle relief for Triple-A Rochester.
The Fighters have 27-year-old southpaw Ryan Wing, a minor league power pitcher who was effective in Double-A in 2007 and in Triple-A a year ago.
The Carp have Scott Dohmann, 31, a hard-throwing right-hander who turned his career around in 2007 and was successful as a Triple-A closer last season.
Orix's Jon Leicester, 30, is a right-handed power pitcher who has struggled in Triple-A and in the majors.
Among position players, Chunichi's Tony Blanco, 27, is a first baseman who has shown some pop in Double A.
The Marines have brought in a trio of fielders.
Chase Lambin is a 29-year-old third baseman who has experience at second, short and in the outfield with some modest offensive numbers on his resume.
Gary Burnham Jr., 34, is a first baseman/outfielder who was outstanding in 2006 and 2007 in Triple-A before playing in Taiwan last season.
In the final week of the preaseason, Lotte handed 33-year-old outfielder Juan Carlos Muniz a regular contract after bringing the Havana native in as a developmental player.
The Hawks have signed 30-year-old outfielder Chris Aguila, who had a career year in 2008 for Triple-A New Orleans. A right-handed hitter, Aguila strikes out fairly often. It's hard to see him turning his career around at this stage. The Hawks haven't acquired a good foreign outfielder since Pedro Valdes arrived in 2001.
Unless new manager Koji Akiyama is really good at getting mileage out of his foreign players, Aguila may just be the next in a long line of guys who could play but didn't do much in a Hawks uniform.
The Fighters signed 120-kilogram first baseman Luis Jiminez, 26, who was a B Double-A hitter.
Tigers outfielder Kevin Mench, 31, puts the ball in play with little power and a few walks but hasn't had a productive season since 2006.