Coming: Hayata Itoh (1st round draft pick), Shingo Matsuzaki, manager Yutaka Wada
Going: Tsuyoshi Shimoyanagi, Kodai Sakurai, Ikuro Katsuragi, Keiji Uezono, manager Akinobu Mayumi
Staying: Matt Murton, Craig Brazell, Randy Messenger, Jason Standridge, Takashi Toritani, Kyuji Fujikawa
Hanshin’s biggest change this season is in the dugout, where Yutaka Wada replaces Akinobu Mayumi, who failed to lead the Tigers to a Central League crown or a Japan Series appearance in three years at the helm. Wada is a Hanshin lifer, having spent his entire 16 year playing career with the team, followed by another 10 years in various coaching roles in the Tigers organizatoin. Wada also occupies a special place in Hanshin lore, as the last active player from Hanshin’s legendary 1985 championship team at the time of his retirement in 2001.
Wada inherits a roster that is largely unchanged from 2011, a team finished fourth in the Central League despite outscoring its opponents by 39 runs. In a small league though, run differentials are deceiving, and a big chunk of those 39 runs came from blowing out Yokohama a few times. Rookie outfielder Hayata Itoh figures to get a serious look during spring training, as center field is a hole, and left fielder Tomoaki Kanemoto is on his last legs after a venerable career. Retaining Matt Murton was a big win for Hanshin, as they can count on his steady bat in right.
Hanshin made no significant changes to its pitching staff this offseason. Hiroyuki Kobayashi is working on a move to the rotation after a so-so season in middle relief; I wonder if lefty Daiki Enokida could make a few starts as well. Depth is always a plus, and while Hanshin had four starters pitch 150 innings with 3.00 or lower ERAs, lefties Minoru Iwata and Atsushi Nohmi both struggled with injuries prior to 2011. On the farm, Taiwanese prospects Ikketsu Sho and Kai-Wen Cheng both put up good numbers at ni-gun last year, and righty Takumi Akiyama has shown promise as well.
Hanshin is beginning to age at some positions, but overall still has a talented veteran roster. That coupled with regression from of last year’s top three should see the Tigers back in playoff position this year.