Coming: Lastings Milledge, Orlando Roman, Kenta Abe, Tatsuo Kinoshita, Itsuki Shoda
Going: Norichika Aoki, Aaron Guiel, Hirotoshi Ishii, Osamu Hamanaka, Ryo Kawashima, Josh Whitesell
Staying: Wladimir Balentien, Tony Barnette, Chang Yong Lim
First a admission: whatever I write here won't be as good as what you'll find at TokyoSwallows.com. That site's entirely in English, so click the link without fear. It was tempting to not write this at all and just stop with that link, but onward I shall press.
Yakult's offseason boils down to this: Norichika Aoki out, Lastings Milledge in.
In fulfilling Norichika Aoki's long held wish and sending him to MLB via the posting system, Yakult waved good by to one of the statistically best hitters in team history, but a guy who's OPS fell from .944 to .718 with the introduction of the new ball. Milledge might not take over center, but he'll step in to an outfield spot left open by Aoki and should bring a bit more power, a bit less contact, and a bit less defensive prowess.
And that's pretty much it for offseason moves for Yakult. I thought they could have used another starter, but there weren't too many on the market. Orlando Roman provides some interesting pitching depth, but he'll have to beat out Tony Barnette for roster time, as foreigners Milledge, Wladimir Balentien and Chang Yong Lim have secure roster spots. Perhaps that other starter is already on the roster, in the from of improvement from sophomore Yuki Shichijyo, a return to health from Yoshinori, or a return to form from Kyohei Muranaka.
Will the Swallows compete in 2012? They finished second in 2011, but it seemed like they got there by getting off to a hot start, and then playing enough games to hang around for the rest of the year. Instinctively an Aoki-less 2012 Yakult feels similar to Hiroshima, though with more power. Like the Carp, Yakult has front-rotation strength (Yakult has Shohei Tateyama and Masanori Ishikawa), a strong foreign closer (Lim), and some mid-rotation and middle relief question marks. Only Yakult's power bats of Balentien, Kazuhiro Hatakeyma and probably Milledge seem to differentiate. So, yeah, it's a cop-out, but this feels like a middle-of-the-pack roster that could compete with regression from the rest of the league or break-out performances, or could suffer from the inverse.