Hitoki Iwase Rumors

Rockies Rumors: Atkins, Barrett, Fukumori

What are the Rockies up to as they plot to defend their NL pennant?  Tracy Ringolsby and Troy E. Renck have the latest.

  • Ringolsby says Garrett Atkins is staying put, which should help the third baseman relax a little bit.  This echoes Renck’s sentiments yesterday.  Renck also noted that the Rox won’t be offering Atkins a multiyear deal anytime soon.
  • Yesterday Renck said that after Yorvit Torrealba, the Rockies were considering Jose Molina, Paul Lo Duca, Jason Kendall, and Ramon Castro for catcher.  However Ringolsby says today that Michael Barrett and Kendall are the main targets.  Renck has come on board with that today, noting that Dan O’Dowd has contacted the agents for Barrett, Kendall, and Lo Duca.
  • Ringolsby adds that the Rockies are exploring the Japanese reliever market, namely Hitoki Iwase and Kazuo Fukumori.  Fukumori might appeal as the cheaper of the two.
  • Meanwhile the Indians, Brewers, Phillies, and Mets like Brian Fuentes.  We’ve also read about the Tigers’ interest.  The Rockies’ willingness to trade him may depend on the progress of 2007 top draft pick Casey Weathers.
  • Jason Jennings might be leaning toward signing with the Padres.  This echoes an obscure article we found back in July.
  • Renck says that if the Rockies don’t hear by Tuesday about their offers to Kaz Matsui, Matt Herges, LaTroy Hawkins, and Torrealba, they’ll start looking at other options. 
  • Renck adds that the Rockies have checked in with Ron Mahay‘s people.  He’s getting popular.
  • The Rockies are out on Jon Garland – they can’t fit his $12MM salary into the 2008 budget.  Matsui moving on would clear $3MM though.
  • The idea of locking up Troy Tulowitzki long-term is being entertained.  It probably wouldn’t happen until after the 2008 season though.

Royals Rumors: Cordero, Silva, Guillen

Some good info surfacing regarding the Royals, as usual courtesy of the KC Star’s Bob Dutton.

  • While Joakim Soria will remain in the pen, the Royals want to add more relief help.  They could re-sign David Riske, and even plan to contact Francisco Cordero‘s agent (Bean Stringfellow).  Bringing back Octavio Dotel is also being considered, though Soria would remain the closer.
  • Ron Mahay is on the radar.  It’s thought that he’ll require something close to a three-year, $12MM deal as one of the better southpaw relievers out there.  Riske wants a deal like that too.  Dayton, just take the draft pick.
  • I’ve yet to mention here Dayton Moore’s quotes.  Basically, steroid allegations won’t affect the team’s pursuit of any player, meaning they still like Jose Guillen.  It’s not surprising to see GMs moving in this direction.
  • Japan presents options such as Hitoki Iwase, Kazuo Fukumori, and Yashuhiko Yabuta.  New manager Trey Hillman observed Iwase up close this year.
  • What about more starting pitching?  The Royals like Carlos Silva, Hiroki Kuroda, Kris Benson, Matt Clement, and Jason Jennings.  Something useful could come out of that.
  • By the way, the Royals saw Glendon Rusch work out recently.  The swingman came up as a Royal before being traded to the Mets in ’99.

Hitoki Iwase, Carlos Silva On Cubs’ Wish List

According to Chris De Luca of the Chicago Sun-Times, the Cubs’ plans this winter involve a heavy focus on Japan.  As you already know, they’re all over Kosuke Fukudome, Hiroki Kuroda, and Kaz Matsui.

Another name to add to the list: lefty closer Hitoki Iwase.  The Cubs have reportedly heavily scouted Iwase and Kuroda.  The Cubs’ closer situation is wide open, with Ryan Dempster moving to the starting rotation.

De Luca also reports that the Cubs will inquire on head of the class free agent starter Carlos Silva.  Silva shares an agent with Carlos Zambrano.  No one expects Silva to come cheaper than four years, $40MM.  The Cubs showed last year that they were willing to invest that kind of money in starting pitching.  Their efforts may be bolstered by their success in importing Ted Lilly from the AL. 

Also, a possible trade could be developing with the Rays.  Tampa Bay is looking to add a shortstop, but the free agent crop is already down to just David Eckstein, Cesar Izturis, and the wild card Alexei Ramirez.  Eckstein isn’t the defensive-minded the guy the Rays covet, and he’d be too expensive anyway.  Marc Topkin names four possible trade targets for the Rays: Erick Aybar, Ronny Cedeno, Chin-Ling Hu, and Brent Lillibridge.  The Cubs are known to have interest in Carl Crawford.  The two parties might have a starting point in Cedeno, but quality pitching like Rich Hill and/or Carlos Marmol would have to be added to the package.    

Ranking Japanese Pitchers

By my count there are five Japanese pitchers who stand a good chance of jumping over to MLB for the 2008 season.  I asked Aaron Shinsano and Jackson Broder of East Windup Chronicle to rank them for us and write a short description for each.  Another knowledgable friend, Tak Iwanaga, also added some info below.

1. Hitoki Iwase – Iwase was on the hill for the tail end of last night’s perfect game, the Japan Series clinching victory for the Chunichi Dragons. The lefty closer has 40+ saves three years running with a career 1.91 ERA. Tops out at around 93 MPH, but has arguably the best slider in Japan.  He’s starting to lose movement and velocity on his pitches, but is making up for it with very good control.   A nice fit for the Okajima fetishist.

2. Kenshin Kawakami – Japan’s highest paid starter for the champion Chunichi Dragons (he made around $3MM) mixes a fastball, cutter, and curveball.  His fastball runs around 87 and his curve is very slow. He’s known as a big game pitcher and always challenges hitters. He was 12-8 with a 3.55 ERA in 2007, but the K/BB ratio was an appealing 6.3 in 167 2/3 IP.  He’s a HR prone strikeout pitcher.  Kawakami has been healthy for the past four seasons.

3. Hiroki Kuroda – One number to remember here: 300, as in 300 feet to left and 300 feet to right. That’s the stadium Kuroda spent 10 years in, and still he managed to post a sub-2.00 ERA in 2006 and go 13-6. What could he do in Petco with 67 extra feet to left to play with?  Tak says that at the least, he’s an innings eater.

4. Kazumi Saito – Before Dice-K made his way to Boston, it was Hanshin’s Saito, not Matsuzaka that was regarded as the top starter in Japanese baseball. He’s won the Sawamura award three times, and when healthy puts up absurd numbers and gaudy K totals.   His 2006 line for the Fukuoka Hawks–18-5, 205 K’s in 201 IP, a 1.75 ERA–is the stuff of fictional video game characters.  Saito employs a big time leg kick, mixing up a forkball, cutter, and nasty hammer in with his mid 90’s fastball. 

Unfortunately for Saito and the many MLB suitors bandying his name about, he has been dealing with a chronic Prior-esque shoulder injury that could (and should) be a concern for squads ready to drop big coin on a Japanese starter.  Saito’s numbers when healthy were good this year as he battled back from injury: 6-3, 2.74, 71 K’s in 72 1/3 IP, but are teams going to post a $30 million posting fee and $10 mil a year for a starter with shoulder issues?  Boom or bust. 

5. Masahide Kobayashi – Lost seven games and ERA rose nearly a point in 2007, but that shouldn’t deter teams from pursuing this 200+ save closer for Chiba Lotte. Throws from the stretch, and has that deceptive delivery that scouts seem to like these days. Has a great forkball that often tails in toward the batter. Not as good as Iwase or Koji Uehara, but might just be an upgrade over, say, The Farns.  Tak adds that he was dropped to the "minors" at the end of the season and many feel his velocity and control are slipping.

Odds and Ends: Hunter, A-Rod, Bedard

Sunday morning minor rumor collection…

  • There’s always some skepticism from readers regarding Charley Walters rumors.  Nonetheless I’ll report that he names the Nationals, White Sox, Braves, Yankees, and Dodgers as teams that will bid for Torii Hunter.  I don’t see the Braves getting involved at $15MM per.  And are the Dodgers ready to move Juan Pierre to left field already?  The other clubs named seem reasonable.
  • As expected, the Cardinals interviewed Chris Antonetti for their open GM position.  No doubt it’s an attractive position but you have to wonder what kind of autonomy he’d have with Tony La Russa around.
  • Larry LaRue makes the case for the Mariners tendering a contract to Horacio Ramirez.  He also notes that Jose Guillen is as good as gone and the Ms won’t consider A-Rod.
  • Speaking of that guy, Bill Price suggests the Mets should sign him and move David Wright to first base.  Carlos Delgado I suppose would be a very expensive pinch-hitter in 2008. 
  • Nick Cafardo expects the Orioles to shop Miguel Tejada this winter, which would surprise no one.  But he’s also hearing that Erik Bedard could be available.  Trades of either might be unpopular with the fanbase.  The trade market for starters could be hopping if Johan Santana, Bedard, and C.C. Sabathia are made available.
  • Joel Sherman says Koji Uehara is a free agent, but we have heard differently.  Anyway, the success of Hideki Okajima may create a minor bidding war for Hitoki Iwase.

Ted Berg On Japanese Pitchers

SNY’s Ted Berg has an informative blog post about Japanese pitchers who may come over to MLB for the 2008 season (found via MetsBlog).  Berg discusses the situations of Koji Uehara, Hiroki Kuroda, Kenshin Kawakami, Hitoki Iwase, Masahide Kobayashi, and Kazumi Saito.

So far only Uehara and Kuroda have been discussed here at MLBTR.  I’m planning to dig up some info on Iwase, but the other three guys are new to me.

Japanese position players to have on the radar include outfielder Kosuke Fukudome and shortstop Tomohiro Nioka.