Coming: Bob McCrory, Kazunori Yamamoto, Takayuki Takaguchi, a player to be named from Hanshin
Going: Tsuyoshi Nishioka, Hiroyuki Kobayashi, Bryan Corey, Juan Muniz, Akira Otsuka, Koichi Hori, Yuta Shimoshikiryo
Staying: Bill Murphy, Hayden Penn, Tae-Kyun Kim
Summary: You gotta have wa. After a decidedly wa-challenged Bobby Valentine farewell campaign in 2009, first-year manager Norifumi Nishimura made that single word his team's slogan last year. He was a rewarded with a lineup that scored 88 runs more than they did in 2009, leading to a 13 win upward swing in the standings, a playoff berth and a Cinderella Nippon Series win. One good turn deserves another, so Nishimura has brought back the wa slogan for 2011.
The two big changes for Lotte this year were both subtractions: the Twins-bound Tsuyoshi Nishioka; and Hiroyuki Kobayashi, who is headed to Hanshin after failing to attract a suitable MLB offer. Nishioka leaves the bigger gap to fill, and I've already written a bit about the candidates Lotte has to take his place. Kobayashi was outstanding in his first year as Lotte's closer, but his shoes will be easier to fill. Kobayashi's departure leaves an opening for a guy like Tatsuya Uchi to step up to, and Bob McCrory was signed as well. Lotte is also still owed free agency compensation from Hanshin, which will either take the form of a player, or cash the Marines can use to sign another import.
Losing Nishioka hurts, but should his absence should be offset from a healthy season from Takashi Ogino. Aside from that the lineup is populated with steady performers. The only obvious regression candidate is the hot-and-cold Toshiaki Imae, who seems to be just as capable of hitting .250 as he is .320, and completely lacks the stabilizing presence of walks in his arsenal. On the plus side, Tae-Kyun Kim could improve in his second trip through the Pacific League, and maybe we'll see Shoitsu Aomatsu find a little more power.
On the defensive side of the ball, Yuki Karakawa is reportedly healthy which will be a big boost for the rotation. Hayden Penn's peripherals actually weren't that different from Bryan Corey's, but he won a Nippon Series game and should be a solid rotation presence. If those two guys are healthy and effective, the rotation should be deeper, though still not as good as Nippon Ham or Rakuten.
So what are the odds of a Lotte repeat? The Pacific League is incredibly balanced this year, so they have a shot but not a guarantee.
And on a final, semi-related note, our old friend Ryo Shinkawa will be working as Nishioka's translator in Minnesota this season. Congratulations, Ryo and best of luck to both you and Nishioka!