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Patrick Newman

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Offseason Changes: Hanshin Tigers

by Patrick Newman (Jan 29, 2011)

Coming: Hiroyuki Kobayashi, Akihito Fujii, Ryota Arai, Robert Zarate, Marcos Vechionacci

Going: Casey Fossum, Akihiro Yano, Satoru Kanemura, Daiyu Kanemura, Keisuke Mizuta

Staying: Matt Murton, Craig Brazell, Jason Standridge, Randy Messenger

Summary: Hanshin's offseason starts with the successful retention of the team's foreign core - Murton, Brazell, Standridge. Messenger also received a contract for 2011, despite his disappointing results last season. The fact that Hanshin's foreign roster isn't overcrowded may mean that incumbent Kai Wen Jeng gets a few innings at the ichi-gun level, or that the Tigers will seek reinforcements if Standridge or Messenger stumble. Beyond that, Hanshin's only significant acquisitions were scooping up Kobayashi after he failed to land an MLB contract, acquiring catcher depth in Fujii, and trading for Takahiro Arai's brother Ryota. Reports of a Jeff Williams comeback have unfortunately not yet come to fruition.

With the return of Murton and Brazell, Hanshin will again field a strong offense, though it is a good bet they will see some regression. The Tigers lineup was spectacular in2010, with five regulars who batted .300 or higher (and Brazell right behind at .297) powering the team to a league-top 740 runs. Hanshin's lineup will be good in 2011, but Keiichi Hirano is not going to hit .350 again, and Kenji Johjima is on the shelf recovering from knee surgery until sometime after the season starts. And as good as Murton and Brazell are, it would be unrealistic to expect them to match their superb 2010 results. That said though, Hanshin still has an offense rivaled only by Yomiuri in the Central League.

Hanshin's rotation has a lot more question marks than its lineup. Yasutomo Kubo has been a godsend, last year becoming the first Hanshin pitcher to throw 200 innings since Kei Igawa back in 2006. Standridge was something of a godsend in 2010 as well, finished second on the team with 126.1 innings. Then 42 year-old lefty Tsuyoshi Shimoyanagi contributed his brand of six-inning appearances, but only 19 times. The laws of the universe dictate that he'll have to stop someday, but who knows when that will be? Beyond those three guys, Hanshin's rotation is filled with a bunch of question marks. Minoru Iwata, Atsushi Nohmi, and Yuya Ando have all had success in the past but are coming off injuries. Touted 2009 draftee Kazuhito Futagami didn't throw a pitch last year; Takumi Akiyama threw many with considerable success, but he's still only 20. Naoto Tsuru finished last season well and could be poised for a breakout. Hanshin's bullpen also remains a strength, anchored by ace closer Kyuji Fujikawa.

Overall I see Hanshin as a team with a lot of talent, but is kind of on the edge. Despite their thin rotation, the Tigers finished one game out of first last season. If their stable pitchers hold steady and a couple of the question marks pan out, they could be dominant. If they falter and the injury guys don't come back, Hanshin's bullpen will be overworked and we'll see a lot of high scoring games.


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