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Sunday, Aug. 5, 2012

BASEBALL BULLET-IN

MLB's trade deadline frenzy has yet to take hold among Japanese teams


One of the potential game-changers in Major League Baseball is the annual late-July trade activity of quality players from teams lower in the standings with little or no chance to make the postseason. Every year, these guys are dealt to playoff-contending clubs for young prospects, supposedly stars of the future.

News photo
New look: Ichiro Suzuki was traded from the Mariners to the Yankees ahead of this year's MLB trade deadline. Such deals rarely happen in Japanese baseball. AP

Recent examples include the American League West Division last-place Seattle Mariners sending Ichiro Suzuki to the AL East first-place New York Yankees for a couple of minor league pitchers, and the move of pitcher Zack Greinke from the also-ran Milwaukee Brewers to the postseason hopeful Los Angeles Angels for a rookie shortstop and a pair of minor league pitchers.

The Los Angeles Dodgers, running neck-and-neck with the San Francisco Giants in a tight National League West race, acquired veteran outfielder Shane Victorino from the Philadelphia Phillies in exchange for relief pitcher Josh Lindblom and a minor leaguer.

Those are just some of the many such deals finalized prior to the July 31 MLB no-waiver trade deadline.

Most of the time, the star players are in the final year — final three months — of a contract and, without knowing where they will be playing next season after becoming free agents, they tend to turn it up a notch in an effort to achieve the dream of every big leaguer — an appearance in the World Series.

Such transactions do not take place in Japanese baseball. If they did, you could speculate about which top-tier players might have been traded from, say, the Central League cellar-dwelling Yokohama Baystars to a one of the many playoff-contending teams in either league.

The fact is there are very few trades made among the Japanese teams anyway, even during the off-season. Instead, teams tend to go with what they have, although occasionally deals are made early in the season, like in April or May.

Also, there are only 12 teams in Japan as compared to 30 in the majors, so there are a lot fewer players available to be traded and, since half the teams in Japan make the playoffs, few clubs would admit to being out of contention in the middle of the summer.

The Baystars would appear to be the only team in either league completely out of the playoff picture, standing 23.5 games out of first place and 12 off the pace for third place, as of Aug. 2.

The Japanese teams do have the opportunity to strengthen their rosters for the pennant stretch run, however. They were allowed to sign new foreign imports until the July 31 deadline, and a few of clubs have exercised that option.

The Chiba Lotte Marines, leading the Pacific League on July 27, signed American pitchers Wil Ledezma and Doug Mathis that day, and the Climax Series-contending Fukuoka Softbank Hawks bolstered their lineup by acquiring first baseman-outfielder Brandon Allen the following day.

Allen was in Japan in March as a member of the Oakland Athletics when that club opened the 2012 American League season against the Seattle Mariners at Tokyo Dome. He takes the place — and uniform number 42 — of the recently released Alex Cabrera who cleared waivers July 31.

The Hawks are hoping Allen can make his Pacific League debut on Tuesday, Aug. 7, when Softbank plays the Nippon Ham Fighters at Obihiro in Hokkaido.

Also looking to make the playoffs, the Rakuten Eagles inked U.S. hurler Brandon Duckworth on July 30.

Meanwhile, regarding the refusal by the Japanese players association to play in the 2013 World Baseball Classic, it seems to me the union is getting some bad advice from somewhere. The members have said they will not play in the WBC, they are the reason there has been no Nichi-Bei yakyu (postseason tours of Japan by MLB All-Star teams) and are against playing regular-season doubleheaders.

It seems to be a players association that keeps saying, "We are not going to play."

I don't know how far apart they are in negotiations with WBC Inc. or exactly what it would take to get Japan into next year's event, but I do remember what it was like in Miyazaki in February of 2009, a week before the Asia round of the last WBC was played at Tokyo Dome. The southeast Kyushu town was going crazy.

There were 30,000 spectators at Sun Marine Stadium to watch an exhibition tuneup game between the WBC Samurai Japan team and the Yomiuri Giants.

Japan was ready once again to get behind one of its national sports teams en masse, and that is the way it should be next spring during WBC 3. Hopefully, it will still happen. Otherwise a lot of people are going miss making a lot of money.

Diamond Dust: Sidelights of the Ichiro trade from the Mariners to the Yankees include Japanese travel companies reporting mass cancellations of trips from Japan to Seattle to watch Ichiro play at Safeco Field. At the same time, fan tours to New York have increased now that Ichiro will be playing his home games in the Big Apple for the remainder of the season.

Also, a TV station approached the Baskin-Robbins 31 ice cream company head office in Japan to ask if they have any plans for promotions to coincide with Ichiro's new uniform number with the Yankees. The answer was negative, but a BR spokeswoman said all employees of the company will be rooting for the Japanese star to make it into the World Series with New York.

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Contact Wayne Graczyk at: Wayne@JapanBall.com



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