It's time once again for my mid-season look at the crop of NPB players who will be available on the MLB hot stove market this upcoming offseason. I do these in the middle of the season so we have a list of guys to keep an eye on for the remainder of the season.
Part One will cover the top free agents in this year's class. All these guys are scheduled to have met the service time requirements for international free agency by the end of the season.
Hisashi Iwakuma (SP, Rakuten Golden Eagles) - After last offseason's well-documented posting misfire, Iwakuma will give it another go this year, this time as a free agent. The bad news is that Iwakuma is currently (July 18) rehabbing a shoulder problem that has kept him sidelined since May. We'll see how he does when he comes back, but I fully expect him to command an MLB deal. (tag archive)
Wei-Yin Chen (SP, Chunichi Dragons) - Chunichi's Taiwanese lefty ace negotiated a free agency clause into his agreement last offseason, and intends to move to the Bigs for 2012. I've only watched Chen once this year, and it looked like he traded some velocity for pitchability. It's unusual to have an established lefty with a good arm freely available on the market at age 26, so it'll be interesting to see where he winds up. Expect more on Chen in a later post. (tag archive)
Matt Murton (Outfielder, Hanshin Tigers) - Spare a thought for Hansin and their fans here for a moment: after years of importing duds like Shane Spencer and Kevin Mench to man rightfield, Hanshin scores a hit with Murton and almost immediately has to worry about losing him to MLB. Hanshin's brass would love to keep him around, but the assumption is that he'd like to make an MLB comeback. Japan's single-season hits record holder is again among the Central League's batting average leaders, but like most of NPB's batters his power and patience numbers have seen a decline in this offense-starved season. (tag archive)
Munenori Kawasaki (SS/2B, Softbank Hawks) - Profiling Kawasaki has been on my now-basically-defuct to-do list since I started the site back in 2008. I've long thought of Mune-rin as an MLB prospect, and though I've tempered my expectations for him I still think he could provide value to an MLB club in the right role. Kawasaki trains with Ichiro in the offseason, and the Japanese media would love to him wind up with Seattle. Mariners scout Yasushi Yamamoto had nice things to say about him in June: "I'm grading him higher than (Tsuyoshi) Nishioka and (Hiroyuki) Nakajima in baserunning and defense. If he can hit .250 in the Majors that will be enough (to play regularly)." Softbank will try to keep him. (tag archive)
Tsuyoshi Wada (SP, Softbank Hawks) - Lefty Wada stepped into the Hawks' rotation straight out of Waseda University back in 2003, and has been pretty consistently effective even since, culminating with an MVP Award last season (over an arguably more-deserving Tsuyoshi Nishioka). Wada isn't going to blow anyone away with his fastball, but he mixes a slider and a changeup and has solid command. My concern about Wada is whether he'll be able to handle a full complement of innings in an MLB rotation. Japanese starters have had a tendency to regress on innings pitched after migrating to MLB; Wada has topped 180 innings only three times, the most recent being 2007 (though he's on pace for about 185 this year). (tag archive)
Coming up in volume 2: posting candidates.
The Japanese site My Favorite Giants maintains a page on free agency status, which was a huge help in pulling this content together.