Coming: Yataro Sakamoto
Going: Toru Hosokawa, Koji Ohnuma, Kimiyasu Kudoh, Kenta Matsuzaka, Yoshihiro Doi, Shinji Taninaka
Staying: Hiroyuki Nakajima, Jose Fernandez, Dee Brown, Brian Sikorski, Alex Graman
Summary: This series is titled "Offseason Chages", but the Lions haven't given me much to write about. Seibu let defensively-minded catcher Toru Hosokawa take his .191 batting average south to Fukuoka, and will let Ginjiro Sumitani and Tatsuyuki Uemoto carry the load. They also swapped righty relievers with Yokohama, picking up Yataro Sakamoto. Beyond that, the Lions replaced some bit players with 2010 draftees.
The real keys Seibu's offseason are in the players who will be returning. Denying Hiroyuki Nakajima's repeated posting requests is addition by not subtracting. The rest is mostly addition by health. Slugger Takeya "Okawari-kun" Nakamura was never really healthy last year, but still popped 25 home runs. #2 starter Takayuki Kishi missed all of July and August last year. The low-profile but highly-productive bat of mid-season signing Jose Fernandez will be available from opening day. 2011 Sophomore Yusei Kikuchi lost a year of development, making only two ni-gun appearances . And even Alex Graman, who was lights-out as a reliever but has been shelved for two years, is back. Obviously some of those guys are going to contribute more than others, but healthy seasons from Kishi and Okawari-kun alone would add a couple wins to the bottom line.
The underlying fact is that this is a talented group that didn't need much tweaking to remain competitive in 2011. The Lions took a magic number of four into the last week of the 2010 season, and won more games than anyone else in the Pacific League; if they had managed just one more tie, they would have taken first place. Just three games separated the first and fourth teams in the PL last year, and I expect things to be similarly tight this season.