Saturday, December 31, 2016

Seibu Lions hope to "Catch the ALL" for 2017


The Saitama Seibu Lions gave their new motto for 2017 with "Catch the ALL" in December. New manager Hatsuhiko Tsuji also added the kanji 気 (ki) on the top right part of the poster which refers to team spirit.

At first sight, you might be thinking of Pokémon right away with this slogan.

The "つかみ獲れ" (Tsukami tore) is referring to seizing the opportunity. In this case, it most likely refers to the Lions defense, which needs improvement for the upcoming season. In 2016, the Lions led the league in errors with 101 in total. In some ways, an underlying interpretation for this motto should be "Catch the BALL" considering the how poorly the infield defense looked.

That isn't to say the defense was the only problem for the Lions in 2016. The reason for this error number had to do with pitchers lacking strikeouts as a whole, forcing them to put the ball in play. in 2015, it was the Lions defense that carried them with the same poor strikeout numbers.

At one point in 2016, the Lions had a 10-31 stretch which was more due to the lack of hitting than any other factor. Opposing teams figured them out and the Lions would often come up short by one hit or pitch in the middle of the season.

We here at Graveyard Baseball hope to do the same with our coverage of the Lions. There will be plenty of things to write about from the ups and downs that the team will go through.

Of course we want to see winning, but in perspective, progress on the field from Tsuji is all we can hope for. A new manager, young rotation, uncertain defense and inconsistent offense are the obvious issues that come about for 2017, but this team can compete.

The offense has the talent to hit, but can it do that on a consistent basis?  Pitching will be raw with guys like Shinsaburo Tawata, Kona Takahashi and a young Tatsuya Imai, but can the imports make a difference and help the depth? Can Tsuji's coaching help the defense which was hard to watch in 2016?

Only time will tell on these questions, but even in 2017, not all of them will be answered. There is a mix of youth and veterans on this Lions squad and we expect them to at least aim for A-Class, even if its against all odds. Welcome back Tsuji, the work is cut out for you.

Ganbare Raionzu!  /  頑張れ ライオンズ!  

Happy New Year Japan / 明けましておめでとうございます 日本! (Akemashite Omedeto Gozaimasu Nippon!)


The Lions uploaded a video with the players saying "Happy New Year" with the goals and promises for the 2017 season.

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Friday, December 30, 2016

Seibu Lions 2016 Review: Position players


The Saitama Seibu Lions had their ups and downs in 2016. This included hitting, pitching and defense with flaws at different points of the year.

Here, we will review the position players and give them a grade. For stats, we will post the slashline of Batting Average / On base Percentage / Slugging. FIP and pitchers will be examined later.

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Catchers: 

Ginjiro Sumitani: .218/.251/.269

"Gin-chan" had a rough season defensively besides at the plate. Of course he isn't known for his bat and will continue to be a hole. There was a point where he would come in as a defensive replacement in games during the second half of the season. Grade: D

Masatoshi Okada: .227/.338/.227

Okada only saw 47 games as a backup catcher, which was more than last year, but still very minor. Norio Tanabe would use him as a defensive substitution if a pinch hitter took over Sumitani's spot in a given game. He would also be a pinch bunter on occasion.  Grade: D

C/OF Tomoya Mori: .292/.367/.436

Mori started the year without a position. He had a few games in right field, but was mostly seen as a pinch hitter until the Lions sent him down to ni-gun. Mori had less pop with less games, but wasn't bad when given a chance. In the second half of the year when the Lions were all but eliminated, he was getting more catcher reps and did well progressing with time. The Lions could no longer hide him as a designated hitter and were forced to put him in the field somewhere. If Mori can impress new manager Hatsuhiko Tsuji, he could get more catcher playing time. Grade: B-

Tatsuyuki Uemoto: .305/.361/.386

Uemoto made the opening day roster and stayed on top for the year. He was the ultimate pinch hitter late in the game when needed and did a decent job of not getting out. While he wouldn't hit home runs, he could slap a single and keep the bases moving. With his flexibility at catcher, Tanabe was able to use him in the field if necessary as well.  Grade: B+

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Infielders: 

1B Ernesto Mejia: .252/.333/.509

Mejia had a much improved 2016 from a brutal 2015 season with a great first half. He started to fall off in the final two months and lacked power once the All-Star break concluded, however, it is a vast upgrade. He had a career high 35 home runs and was close to being the Pacific League's home run king. Unfortunately, Mejia only had 8 HRs total in the second half which was lacking. He would also see more time at DH than 2015. Grade: B

2B Hideto Asamura: .309/.357/.510

Will the real Asamura step up? This was the best season Asamura had since 2013, which is arguably his peak season. He had 24 home runs at 40 doubles, even earning a monthly honor as the MVP for August in the Pacific League. He's shown that he can hit, but putting it together for a full season outside of 2013 had been an issue. After a slow April, he took off and was the best hitter for the 2nd half of the Lions season.  Asamura's defense was also valuable at 2B.  Grade: A

3B/DH Takeya "Okawari-kun" Nakamura: .238/.313/.447

This was a brutal year for Okawari-kun. He would spent about a month in ni-gun after being ineffective and possibly not conditioned well. In the past, he has been known to be injury prone and this year showed it was no different. An argument can be made that he's the player who can make or break the Lions and the offense took a large hit when he was ineffective. One silver lining in all of this is that he played in 108 games for the season, making it the first time in his career he appeared in at least 100+ games for three consecutive years. He still had 21 home runs, but it wasn't the season he hoped for as the team tried making him a DH. It's unsure whether this will continue or not under Tsuji.  Grade: C-

SS/3B Yuji Onizaki: .253/.314/.332

Onizaki was the BABIP king and his average was rather higher than usual. He would get majority of the luck on balls put in play. Results offensively were there, but defensively, he had issues at both 3B and SS when in 2015 he showed that was his strength. With his defense bring a problem, he only played in 79 games.  Grade: C

SS/3B Shuta Tonosaki: .176/.222/.294

Tonosaki was supposed to be a more promising future shortstop after getting his feet wet in 2015. Like a lot of the team, his defense was an issue and he couldn't hit his own weight, making him mostly a pinch runner in 37 games. He was also ineffective on the base paths when given the chance. Tonosaki is still young, but there's competition behind him. Grade: D-

UTIL Naoto Watanabe: .309/.352/.348

Watanabe was your utility infielder playing each position at least once. He is a decent spell player and was good in bunches where Tanabe clearly saw matchups on when to play him. I would argue Watanabe was the second best pinch hit option behind Uemoto and his defense was acceptable for 2016. Only problem for him was that he couldn't play every day.  Grade: B+ 

1B/SS/3B Shogo Kimura: .221/.262/.263

The Lions had an obsession with playing Kimura in the first half, giving him more time than Watanabe. He was versatile to play three positions on the infield, but was average at best. His bat wasn't reliable and Watanabe proved to be a better option comparing the two. In June, he would tear his ACL in practice and was brought back under an ikusei contact.  Grade: D-

SS/3B Kyohei Nagae: .162/.213/.176

Anyone who watches the Lions knows that Nagae's role is not about hitting. He's the best defensive infielder for the Lions and he proved that once again when playing SS or 3B. There was only one play that was a borderline error when he lost a flyball in the sun, but he was perfect at fielding ground balls and didn't cause problems while in the field. Tanabe continued to use him as a defensive substitute and whenever he started, there was an emphasis on defense. Grade: B+

2B/3B Daichi Mizuguchi: .500/.500/.500

Mizuguchi saw 20 games and most of them were off the bench. A former ikusei pick, he would be a helpful pinch running option when with the ichi-gun. He would remain mostly buried with other infielders in front of him on the depth chart. Sample size is too small to really have a grade, but he didn't have a base running blunder like some.  Grade: Incomplete

SS/3B Nien Ting Wu: .194/.282/.234

Wu was the Lions 7th round pick in 2015 and he started playing ichi-gun games in the second half after a good season in ni-gun. For a shortstop, his defense was rather impressive and he wasn't a liability in the field. His bat can use some work, but he had a few "big hits" that Lions fans will remember and he even experienced what a hero interview was like. For a guy who was drafted in the late rounds, playing in 43 ichi-gun games (and starting most of them) is quite an accomplishment. Grade: B-

Hotaka Yamakawa: .259/.335/.590

Yamakawa was a Spring Training star and it earned him a spot on the opening day roster. He was 0-11 and was sent down to ni-gun, where he hit 21 HRs. Yamakawa had an impressive second half, where had 14 HRs in only 49 games, including four in a three-game series against the Chiba Lotte Marines. Once he had the hang of playing at the ichi-gun level, he was fun to watch in a short time and he finished strong. Defense was acceptable, but not great.  Grade: B

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Outfielders:

Shogo Akiyama: .296/.385/.422

If Akiyama didn't spent two weeks as the No.3 hitter in the lineup, he would've hit .300 easily. Coming off a historic record-breaking season, Akiyama was still solid at getting on base and providing hits as a leadoff hitter. He was also acceptable when hitting from the No. 2 spot. Surprisingly, he had more home runs (11) than Mori (10). Akiyama was the only Lions player to play in every inning for 2016. Grade: A-

Takumi Kuriyama: .279/.390/.369

Kuriyama had a strong first half which carried him to his first All-Star game in 2016. He led the team in walks with 83 which explains his rather high on-base percentage. He traded spots with Akiyama for the leadoff spot and at one point was the team's hottest hitter. Defense was above average as he made a few impressive plays to save some runs.  Grade: B+

Yuji Kaneko: .265/.331/.311

Kaneko's defense was poor at SS through the first two months and Tanabe's solution was to put him in right field, where he appeared there the most. He would be a solid No. 9 hitter and even saw time as the leadoff hitter. Kaneko tied Yoshio Itoi for the NPB stolen base crown with 53 in total. If his defense didn't cost the Lions games in the first half, he did everything you want in a No. 9 hitter. It is unknown what the plans are as Tsuji takes the reigns. Grade: B+ 

Shogo Saito: .000/.077/.000

Saito saw only 45 games at the ichi-gun level after being the 4th outfielder in 2015. He failed to get a hit and had some time as a pinch runner if not defensive replacement. Saito wasn't a problem in the outfield, but he had a few base running errors that hurt the Lions.  Grade: D-

Ryo Sakata: .245/.280/.371

Sakata won the RF job out of spring training and preseason. After doing well for three weeks, he fell back to earth but racked up quite a few important RBIs when with the ichi-gun. Sakata is likely to be good in bunches, but only for a designed matchup. Grade: C

Fumikazu Kimura: .167/.219/.200

A former pitcher converted to position player, Kimura is a 5th outfielder at best.  He only played in 28 ichi-gun games and most of them were as a late defensive replacement. Grade: D

Masato Kumashiro: .167/.286/.167

Like F. Kimura, Kumashiro is a depth outfielder on the bench who is there in case of emergency. Kumashiro had better range than Kimura, but he also doesn't hit as well. Grade: D+ 

Naotaka Takehara: .200/.226/.333

Takehara was viewed as another depth option when the Lions signed him. He was good for a few pinch hits and should've had a game winning base hit in one outing. However, his contributions were minimal as he only appeared in 22 games, with all of them in the first half. Grade: F

Shotaro Tashiro: .250/.250/.250

Tashiro is mostly a pinch runner who is there as roster filler when an extended break is ahead. He appeared in only 13 games, but one of them is where he was remembered for being picked off by Shota Ono as he was supposed to be the game-tying run. This ruined momentum at the time, but the sample size isn't large enough for a grade. Grade: Incomplete

Yutaro Osaki: .000/.167/.000

As a veteran, Osaki is usually called up if the Lions like a pitching matchup they see. However, he only appeared in four games for 2016 and failed to record a hit. Last year, we saw contributions but 2016 was a sign of regression.  Grade: Incomplete

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Conclusion:

Some guys did well and others didn't. The 41-game stretch which was after the walkoff loss in Hiroshima (Uemoto blocking the plate) is what ruined the hitting. They went 10-31 including that loss and it took them too long to recover in order to compete for A-class. Asamura and Akiyama had good years, but it was disappointing as a whole when Okawari-kun couldn't stay on top while the team remained unclutch in those 41 games.

The defense was flawed, no question, but it only hurt them through April/May. It wasn't as brutal as the numbers and stats indicate. The only good news was how the Lions played their best baseball in August/September where we saw some fun games and the bats finally woke up. Defense was also improved at the time besides the pitching which is also a work in progress.  In 2017, the Lions will need the Osaka Toin trio of Asamura, Okawari-kun and Mori to all have good or great seasons if they want to make A-class.

Tsuji will put an emphasis on defense, but at what cost? Will we see more bunting? Will there be less home runs as a result? Time will tell.

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Monday, December 26, 2016

Report: Hisanobu Watanabe promoted to organization director

Photo credit: Sponichi
The Saitama Seibu Lions will have a new structure for 2017 in the front office. Senior Director Hisanobu "Nabe-Q" Watanabe has been promoted to being the organizational director, the Lions announced on Monday.

General manager Haruhiko Suzuki said that there needed to be "accountability" for the last three seasons of finishing in B-class (Bottom 3 in the Pacific League). Suzuki, 65, will keep his position being in charge of the Lions personnel moves.

With this promotion for Nabe-Q, it's clear he will be in line to be the full-time general manager in the future. It's possible that both Nabe-Q and Suzuki will have to agree on making decisions together in the front office for the time being.

When Nabe-Q stepped down after 2013 as a manager, he had Tetsuya Shiozaki in line to replace him. Suzuki refused to follow through with this and hired Haruki Ihara for 2014, who would later resign in the middle of the year. Norio Tanabe would take over for the rest of the season and be in charge for both 2015 and 2016.

For the hiring process of Hatsuhiko Tsuji, Nabe-Q had more of an influence in the decision and gave his approval. Suzuki said there is a "good chance" that Nabe-Q will take the reigns when he steps down.

This move overall is just another transition for the direction of the Lions front office.

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Saturday, December 24, 2016

Graveyard Baseball Podcast: Lions ŌenDEN Episode 14


This is the 14th episode of our Saitama Seibu Lions OenDEN podcast. Christian and Wes return with talk about Takayuki Kishi signing with the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles, FIP, player salaries and more!

We apologize for any mispronunciations and errors which might have occurred. This episode was recorded before Frank Garces and Alexis Candelario.

The song featured in this podcast introduction is "Hello, Goodbye and Hello" by Anri Kumaki. This song was featured in the credits at the end of the movie Children who Chase Lost Voices by Makoto Shinkai.



Click here if the embed doesn't work.  |  Click here to download.

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Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Candelario is an ultimate underdog story for the Lions


The Saitama Seibu Lions signed Alexis Candelario on Wednesday. However, this isn't a move to be thrilled about based on history.

Candelario will be 35 next year and there is minimal upside. He has never played under a major league organization, even in the minors. In November, he was slated to be part of the Los Angeles Dodgers organization on a minor league deal.

For those who like feel-good stories of a guy rising from the ashes, this is for you. Candelario has played baseball in six countries and Japan is expected to be his 7th in his career. He previously spent time in Nicaragua, Mexico, Venezuela, USA, Italy and the Dominican Republic.

When he was stateside, Candelario was part of an independent league known as the Atlantic League Professional Baseball. In 2016 alone, he had stints in the States, Italy and the Dominican Republic.

He has racked up plenty of mileage, but very few results. His breakthrough in working up the ranks came from 2015 in Venezuela, where he had a 2.16 ERA in 11 starts through 14 games. After being decent in Italy for 2016, he moved quickly to Mexico for a 2nd career stint.

Like graduating school, it helps get to where he is today, but it all resets assuming he enters Japan. Lions fans will need to have low expectations in 2017 for him.

The Lions management made a desperate signing, hoping to get lucky. It almost feels as if they just looked at some productive baseball stats and signed Candelario based on numbers. Given the Lions rotation depth, they're going to need him to help out in the short term while some of the younger pitchers like Tatsuya Imai develop in the farm.

Base case scenario will likely be a No. 5 starter to eat up innings. In the worst case, he could start games in April but spend the rest of the season in ni-gun. If it could get worse, Candelario can make a bad impression on the Lions coaches like how C.C. Lee did in camp and not earn playing time.

Call it a cheap signing, similar to the likes of how Miguel Mejia was with the team in 2015.   Regardless, Candelario becomes an interesting story for someone as traveled as he is.

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Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Makita and Akiyama to represent the Lions for Samurai Japan


Shogo Akiyama and Kazuhisa Makita will be the two Saitama Seibu Lions who will be representing Japan.

UPDATE: The full 28-man roster has been announced. 

Makita said that he was "honored" to play for the country and remembers being part of the team's defeat at the 20013 WBC event. Japan's national team made the finals in San Francisco, only to lose to Puerto Rico by a score of 3-1.

This will be Akiyama's first time participating in the WBC. He was part of Samurai Japan during the Premier 12 event at the end of 2015.

Makita is no stranger to the bullpen, where he was a closer in his rookie season of 2011. After spending a few years as a starter, the Lions put him back in the bullpen for 2016 after seeing how effective he was during the Premier 12. He proved to be the best middle reliever on the Lions as a setup man as well someone who can take extra innings in long relief.

Akiyama is coming off a season where he hit .296 and was still the team's leadoff hitter for most of the year. He was the only Lion to play in every inning of 2016 after having a historic 2015 season breaking Matt Murton's single-season record for hits.

Here is the full roster of players who will play for for Samurai Japan in 2017:

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Pitchers (13): 

SP Shohei Otani (Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters)

SP/RP Hirotoshi Masui (Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters)

SP Takahiro Norimoto (Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles)

SP Tomoyuki Sugano (Yomiuri Giants)

SP Shintaro Fujinami (Hanshin Tigers)

SP Ayumu Ishikawa (Chiba Lotte Marines)

SP Kodai Senga (Fukuoka Softbank Hawks)

RP Naoki Miyanishi (Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters)

RP Ryo Akiyoshi (Tokyo Yakult Swallows)

RP Kazuhisa Makita (Saitama Seibu Lions)

RP Toshiya Okada (Chunichi Dragons)

RP Yuki Matsui (Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles)

RP Yoshihisa Hirano (Orix Buffaloes)

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Catchers (3): 

Motohiro Shima (Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles)

Shota Ono (Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters)

Seiji Kobayashi (Yomiuri Giants)

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Infielders (5): 

1B Sho Nakata (Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters)

2B Ryosuke Kikuchi (Hiroshima Carp)

SS Hayato Sakamoto (Yomiuri Giants)

2B Tetsuto Yamada (Tokyo Yakult Swallows)

3B Nobuhiro Matsuda (Fukuoka Softbank Hawks)

SS Kosuke Tanaka (Hiroshima Carp)

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Outfielders (6): 

Seiichi Uchikawa (Fukuoka Softbank Hawks)

Yoshitomo Tsutsugo (Yokohama DeNA Baystars)

Shogo Akiyama (Saitama Seibu Lions)

Seiya Suzuki (Hiroshima Carp)

Norichika Aoki (Houston Astros)

Ryosuke Hirata (Chunichi Dragons)


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Japan's first game will be on March 7 against Cuba at Tokyo Dome in pool play.

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Friday, December 16, 2016

Report: Seibu Lions sign Alexis Candelario


The Saitama Seibu Lions made their second addition of the week. On Saturday morning, they reached an agreement with Dominican pitcher Alexis Candelario. He will make an estimated ¥25 million for 2017 and was assigned No. 68.

Candelario, who will be 35 in May, has never played under a major league organization, according to Baseball Reference. He spent the 2016 season with the Atlantic League of Professional Baseball (Independent league in the USA), the Italian Baseball League and the Mexican Baseball League.

"I am sincerely pleased to be a member of the Saitama Seibu Lions," Candelario said in a statement. "I have played with many teams in different countries, but I hope the Lions and Japan can be my last place. I appreciate the team for giving me an opportunity and I promise to do my best."

With Veracruz in Mexico, he had a 2.62 ERA with a 1.164 WHIP in seven starts. In Italy, his ERA was 1.88 with a 1.043 WHIP in seven starts.

He was able to boost his stock entering 2016 by playing well in the Venezuelan Winter League. With the Tiburones de La Guaira in Venezuela, he had a 2.28 ERA in 14 starts and he credits this 2015 season as to how he got to where he is.

Last month, he signed a minor league deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers and has presumably been granted a release. He also spent time in the Dominican winter league.

Knowing his history, Candelario is projected to compete for a starting spot in the Lions rotation for 2017. He will be part of a mix including Ryoma Nogami, Ken Togame, Keisuke Honda, Makoto Aiuchi and Yasuo Sano. Candelario is the 5th import on the Lions roster which includes Ernesto Mejia, Chun-Lin Kuo, Frank Garces and Brian Wolfe.

Including Shogo Kimra on ikusei, the Lions will have 69 players under contract with two spaces available on the 70 man roster. They will most likely leave one spot open to possibly promote Kimura and have one space open for someone else.

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Thursday, December 15, 2016

Seibu Lions take cash option as compensation for loss of Kishi


With Type A and B free agents, there will be compensation if he signs with another team in NPB. The Saitama Seibu Lions chose the cash option which would be 80% of Kishi's salary from the 2016 season.

The Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles protected 28 players from their 70-man roster which were not eligible for a selection. As a result, the Lions will receive ¥180 million (about $1.8 million) as compensation. Kishi, 32, signed a four year contract worth ¥1.6 billion and will make ¥400 million annually.

"I viewed the player list that Rakuten sent us," Seibu Lions General Manager Haruhiko Suzuki said in a statement. "There was no player selection because there was no one matching the team's needs."

The Lions were hoping to find a pitcher who could contribute right away and couldn't find one after seeing the players eligible for selection. After the 2013 season concluded, the Lions last chose a player compensation twice with P Taiki Nakago and IF Ryota Wakiya for the losses of P Hideaki Wakui to the Chiba Lotte Marines and Yasuyuki Kataoka to the Yomiuri Giants, respectively.

With the Lions choosing cash over a player + less cash, Rakuten will be paying an ¥580 million ($5.8 million) for Kishi's services in the 2017 season. Last year, the Eagles signed Toshiaki Imae who was previously with the Marines. Chiba would also take the cash compensation option rather than choosing a player.

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In a fun exercise, I tried to create a protected 28-man list with Rakuten's roster. This was all based on logic from a productive player to someone who was a recent draft pick worth keeping. There were also some veterans who may have received special treatment from protection (i.e. Takashi Toritani was not eligible to leave the Hanshin Tigers). I also took the assumption that foreign players were not eligible.

Here's how the results looked based on players I knew and what would make sense if I was doing this:

Pitchers (12):

P Takahiro Norimoto

P Tomohiro Anraku

P Yuki Matsui

P Takahiro Shiomi

P Minabu Mima

P Yudai Mori

P Wataru Karashima

P Yoshinao Kamata

P Yuri Furukawa

P Sho Miyagawa

P Kenji Tomura

P Hiroyuki Fukuyama

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Catchers (3): 

C Motohiro Shima

C Kengo Horiuchi

C Yuichi Adachi

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Infielders (6):

IF "Ginji" Akaminai

IF Eigoro Mogi

IF Toshiaki Imae

IF Yasuhito Uchida

IF Kazuya Fujita

IF Ryota Yoshimochi

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Outfielders (7):

OF Louis Okoye

OF Hiroaki Shimauchi

OF Takero Okajima

OF Kazuo Matsui

OF Akihisa Makida

OF Ryo Hijirisawa

OF Masayoshi Fukuda

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Based on what the Lions wanted, there weren't many pitching options available. Yusuke Nishimiya could've been an option, Koji Aoyama is on the decline, other pitchers I couldn't name are too inexperienced.

At best, the Lions could've selected a pinch runner among position players or a mediocre reliever. When Kishi signed with Rakuten weeks ago, I had problems coming up with this list as I only named 20 players.

By having trouble creating a protected list means that the options weren't there as this Rakuten team is still recovering from the 2013 Japan Series and parts of the roster are gutted. The pitching staff has some above average pieces, but there is no depth compared to a roster like the Softbank Hawks or Yomiuri Giants.

This list is obviously not exactly what Rakuten had for the Lions, but it's clear some guys that are likable are off the table.

Were there any disagreements or other players Rakuten would've protected? Did I miss someone? Was there a player you'd go for if you were the Lions? Let me know.

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Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Report: Seibu Lions reach agreement with Frank Garcés


The Saitama Seibu Lions made their second foreign acquisition of the offseason. They announced they signed San Diego Padres left-handed pitcher Frank Garcés to a one year contract on Wednesday afternoon. He will make an estimated ¥60 million for the upcoming season and was assigned uniform number 59.

Garcés, who will be 27 in January, most recently signed a minor league contract with the Miami Marlins in November. He spent his entire career in the Padres organization and made it to the MLB level in 2014 and 2015.

In 55 games and one career spot start over the course of two seasons, he has a career ERA of 4.60 to go with a strikeout clip of 7.1 per nine innings. He spent the entire 2016 with the El Paso Chihuahua's, the Padres AAA affiliate.

In AAA for 2016, he had an ERA of 4.41 and a strikeout ratio of 7.7 per nine innings. He was used both as a starter and reliever with the Padres minor leagues.

"I am happy to be a part of the Saitama Seibu Lions," Garcés said in a statement. "I promise to do my best to help the team win. I look forward to meeting my new teammates and the fans."
He plans to visit Japan in January.Training camp in Miyazaki prefecture should occur sometime in February.

The Lions have shown in the past they've needed bullpen help and hope he can be a contributor for next season. A positive thing is that he's only in his 20s and not an aging veteran waiting for a final paycheck.

Garcés will compete with Brian Schlitter for innings most likely in the bullpen. He is only the fourth foreign import with the Lions on the roster which includes Ernesto Mejia and Chun-Lin Kuo.

With the signing of Garcés, the Lions currently have 67 roster spots filled and Shogo Kimura most likely having a space available for a midseason promotion. There are two spots that are still vacant with the Lions looking for more pitching help.

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Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Matsuzaka's legacy: 10 years later

Matsuzaka unveiled with Theo Epstein. 
December 13, 2006 was the day the Boston Red Sox and Daisuke (Dice-K) Matsuzaka reached an agreement to a 6-year, $52 million contract. While posting players happened, it was the first excessive contract and posting fee among players coming from Japan.

The Saitama Seibu Lions would receive a $51.1 million posting fee as the Red Sox earned exclusive negotiating rights with Matsuzaka and the money would forever change the team.

A star out of Yokohama High School, Matsuzaka was drafted by the Lions in 1998. They would win a 3-way lottery for his rights. While he wanted to play for the Yokohama Baystars, the Lions had to convince and recruit him in order to sign with them.

He would win rookie of the year in 1999, an Eiji Sawamura Award in 2001 and a Best IX award three times. Matsuzaka led the league in ERA twice, wins three times as well as be a seven-time Golden Glove award winner.



Matsuzaka was part of the 2004 Japan Series championship team, which would be his only title in NPB. After 2006, he would take his chances to go to the majors.

An expensive acquisition, Matsuzaka would contribute for the 2007 World Series Red Sox team going through ups and downs as a rookie in the Major Leagues. He had a franchise rookie record for strikeouts in a season with 201. In Game 3 of the World Series against the Rockies, he would earn the win and have a two-out, two-RBI single to contribute as a hitter.

His best season in MLB would be 2008, where he went 18-3 with a 2.90 ERA as well as a quality start in the 2008 ALCS against the Tampa Bay Rays. Things began to fall off in 2009 where he would fall to AAA Pawtucket and wouldn't be the same again.

An argument can be made that his change of training regimen with Boston made it tough on him. It was a style different than what he used to do while in Japan.

After briefly spending time in the minor leagues with the Cleveland Indians, he would spend his last two years in North America with the New York Mets. He was part of a rotation in 2013, but mostly spent time in the bullpen for 2014.

Today, Matsuzaka is with the Softbank Hawks after spending majority of the 2015 season injured and in the farm. The Hawks would win the Japan Series in 2015, but Matsuzaka never played with the team's ichi-gun.

He is only a name to garner headlines, as he made his first ichi-gun appearance in Sendai against the Rakuten Eagles in September. In his only outing for one inning, he gave up five runs, two of the earned, two walks and two strikeouts to go with a wild pitch. It was more of a novelty outing with the postseason standings locked up at the time.

Matsuzaka's leaving would hurt the Lions in the short term, as they would be caught with a bribery scandal and be forced to forfeit their first three high school draft picks in 2007. They also finished in the Bottom 3 for the first time in 26 years as part of the fallout.

However, they would go on to win the 2008 Japan Series in what was an interesting comeback with a young Hideaki Wakui and Takayuki Kishi carrying the rotation.



Matsuzaka's impact would help financially in renovated Seibu Dome with permanent changes. It would no longer be called  "Goodwill Dome" and the turf would change. There would also be an addition of bullpen box seats, a high definition scoreboard and interior upgrades including restrooms.

Seibu Dome would undergo two different turf renovations. Today, there is brown turf to make the building look like it has a dirt infield diamond. 
No matter how rough of a career Matsuzaka had in Boston after an early success in the Majors, he will forever be remembered as a someone who helped the Lions both on the field and literally the stadium itself. He did a lot for the team both during and after his time in Tokorozawa and we'll always be grateful for it.

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Friday, December 9, 2016

2016 Lions draft picks receive their numbers in unveiling

Seibu Lions rookies were revealed on 12/9. Photo via Midori Suzuki.
The Saitama Seibu Lions revealed their 2016 draft picks as they will be rookies in 2017 on Friday night. Each player marched out in a formal introduction, which can be seen here.

They would walk out in uniform with a jersey number, knowing what they will be wearing next year. Most notably, first round draft pick Tatsuya Imai will wear No. 11, shortly after Takayuki Kishi left the team for the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles.

After giving a few speeches and answering some questions from selected individuals, they signed an autograph on a piece of paper which would later be sold. On the right of each card displayed an immediate goal for each player. Like when players sign contracts for the next year, rookies will have short term hopes and dreams, even if some are unrealistic.



Here is what each Lions player wrote on the card as well as their opening statement about themselves on what they can bring to the table:

1. P Tatsuya Imai 今井 達也 (11): "Grow up" (He's only 18)

"It's honor to take over [Takayuki] Kishi's number. I'll start [from working out and building up my body."
2. P Shunta Nakatsuka 中塚 駿太 (22): Opening Day roster

"My [strengths] are my big [strong] body and fastball."

3. IF Sosuke Genda 源田 壮亮 (6): Opening Day starter

"My strengths are a large fielding range and running. I have to contribute to the [first] team [in my] first year."

4. OF Shohei Suzuki 鈴木 将平 (46): Hit .300 with 35 stolen bases

"My [goal is to have a batting average of] .300 and [have] 35 stolen bases in the future. I'll show you [my]  aggressive play."

5. Katsunori Hirai 平井 克典 (25): Opening Day roster

"I have to be on the [ichi-gun] roster at the beginning of the season as the oldest rookie [on the] team this year." (Hirai will turn 25 years old at the end of December)

6. Ichiro Tamura 田村 伊知郎 (40): Opening Day roster

"Look [for] my hopping-up fast ball. I never back down from any batters"

==

We personally have higher short term expectations for Genda and Nakatsuka. It's possible that Hirai and Tamura can be bullpen contributors who can rise up. Imai and Tamura are both long term picks since they're both out of high school.

Personally, I really like it that Imai has 11 not only for how it is lately representing aces, but his name of IMAI works perfectly having two "I" in it with the 11 to bring symmetrical balance.  Other numbers replace what recent players who left once wore, including Atsushi Okamoto (22), Anthony Seratelli (6), Yuta Nakazaki (46) and Takanori Hoshi (25).

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Other notes:

-All Seibu Lions players are under contract with the exception of Shogo Noda, Keisuke Honda and Hitoto Komazuki, who are all currently in Australia.

-The Lions currently have 66 players on their 70-man roster with Shogo Kimura as an ikusei. They will most likely have 69 players at most by opening day, leaving room for Kimura to earn promotion if he appears to be healthy and impress the Lions coaching staff. They can still sign up to three foreigners.

==

Special Thanks to @cossy0223 for making this possible with translation help.  

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Thursday, December 1, 2016

Seibu Lions 2017 salary chart

Okawari-kun writes "Ganbaru" for "working hard" as his motto for 2017
December is the month of contract negotiations for all NPB teams. Rather than sign the dotted line on a multi-year deal, salaries can go up or down depending on how a player's performance was the previous season. Some will take paycuts for a poor year, while a great year will bring a raise.

Here is a collection of all the Saitama Seibu Lions reported salaries for 2017. All figures are estimates and not exact based on reports.

^ - Raise

|v| - Paycut

= - Same wages

N = New player
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Pitchers:

Yusei Kikuchi: ¥100 million  ^
Hirotaka Koishi: ¥15 million ^
Koki Fujita: ¥5 million =
Kentaro Fukukura ¥6 million |v|
Naoaki Matsumoto: ¥5 million =
Chun-Lin Kuo: ¥30 million =
Brian Wolfe: ¥60 million ^
Brian Schlitter: ¥80 million N
Tadasuke Minamikawa: ¥10 million =
Ryohei Fujiwara: ¥9.5 million |v|
Toshihiro Iwao: ¥8.5 million |v|
Tsubasa Kokuba: ¥6 million
Isamu Sato: ¥6 million ^
Tatsuya Oishi: ¥15 million ^
Kona Takahashi: ¥23 million ^
Tomomi Takahashi: ¥48 million |v|
Tatsushi Masuda: ¥95 million ^
Ken Togame: ¥60 million |v|
Kazuhisa Makita: ¥100 million ^ (Turned down two-year contract, expected free agent after 2017)
Shinsaburo Tawata: ¥23 million ^
Yasuo Sano: ¥13 million ^
Ryoma Nogami: ¥50 million |v|
Yusuke Tamamura: ¥5.5 million |v|
Makoto Aiuchi: ¥6 million |v|
Takuya Toyoda: ¥9.5 millions |v|
Shota Takekuma: ¥50 million ^
Yosuke Okamoto: ¥18 million |v|
Seiji Kawagoe: ¥12 million =
Frank Garcés: ¥60 million N
Alexis Candelario: ¥25 million N
Shogo Noda: ¥13 million ^
Keisuke Honda: ¥7 million =

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Catchers:

Ginjiro Sumitani: ¥100 million =
Tatsuyuki Uemoto: ¥16 million ^
Shota Nakata: ¥5.8 million |v|
Komei Fujisawa: ¥5 million =
Masatoshi Okada: ¥16 million ^
Tomoya Mori: ¥45 million ^
Hitoto Komazuki: ¥5.1 million |v|

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Infielders:

Takeya Nakamura: ¥410 million  = (Slated to be a free agent after 2017)
Yuji Onizaki: ¥23 million =
Nien Ting Wu: ¥8 million ^
Kazuki Kaneko: ¥5.5 million |v|
Ernesto Mejia: ¥500 million ^
Haruka Yamada: ¥6 million =
Yuji Kaneko: ¥48 million ^
Hotaka Yamakawa: ¥16 million ^
Daichi Mizuguchi: ¥5.5 million ^
Naoto Watanabe: ¥50 million |v|
Kyohei Nagae: ¥12.5 million ^
Hideto Asamura: ¥155 million ^



===

Outfielders:

Shogo Saito: ¥14 million |v|
Masato Kumashiro: ¥13 million |v|
Yutaro Osaki: ¥18.5 million |v|
Ryo Sakata: ¥15 million ^
Shogo Akiyama: ¥200 million ^ (3-year contract through 2019)
Daisuke Togawa: ¥5 million =
Takumi Kuriyama: ¥190 million |v|
Fumikazu Kimura: ¥14 million |v|
Shuta Tonosaki: ¥13 million |v|
Aito Otaki: ¥6 million =
Shotaro Tashiro ¥6 million |v|

===

Rookies:

P Tatsuya Imai: ¥13 million
P Shunta Nakatsuka: ¥12 million
IF Sosuke Genda: ¥12 million
OF Shohei Suzuki: ¥6 million
P Katsunori Hirai: ¥10 million
P Ichiro Tamura: ¥7 million

Note: Signing bonuses are not included in this listing. Some have a higher bonus than others and it isn't listed here. 

===

Ikusei:

IF Shogo Kimura: ¥7.5 million ^

===

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Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Report: Seibu Lions sign Akiyama to three-year contract


In the period of contract negotiations, the Saitama Seibu Lions kept one player to stay with the team. Shogo Akiyama was signed to a three year contract on Thursday.

Akiyama, 28, would have been close to being a domestic free agent about to reach seven years of service time with the Lions after 2017. He will make an estimated ¥200 million next season, an increase of ¥50 million from last year.

In 2015, Akiyama set the single-season record for hits with 216, breaking what was once set by Matt Murton in 2010. Last year, Akiyama would have a slashline of .291/.362/.417 with 11 home runs and 32 doubles. He continued to be the team's leadoff hitter while spending time around the lineup in the middle of the season.

Akiyama was one of two players to be play every single game for the Lions in 2016 with the other being Hideto Asamura. He also appeared in every inning without being substituted.

===

Other notes:

-Ginjiro Sumitani will make ¥100 million in 2017 as he enters a contract year. (The second of a 2-year deal). No wage change from 2016.

-Takeya "Okawari-kun" Nakamura will enter a contract year and make ¥410 million with no change in salary from 2016. He is in the last of a four-year deal.

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Monday, November 28, 2016

Kishi thanks the Lions, fans in final farewell


The Saitama Seibu Lions hosted Thanks Festa on 11/23 at Seibu Dome as a final goodbye to the 2016 NPB season. All other NPB teams do the same, as in Japan, they do their equivalent of fanfest after the season rather than before it.

Despite leaving for the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles in free agency, Takayuki Kishi was in a Lions uniform for the final time and attended the event. He was introduced like every other player at the start of the event and was greeted with cheers by the fans.

Throughout the league, this has been a common procedure even though players aren't required to attend this event. Like Kishi, outgoing players Yoshio Itoi of the Orix Buffaloes and Daikan Yoh (Yang) were in attendance at their respective fanfests. Last year, Ryota Wakiya was a participant after it was already known that he filed to be a free agent and wasn't likely to return.

For Kishi, he was given a chance to speak to the fans one last time before leaving. He admitted he wasn't comfortable participating, but felt it was part of his duty to be present.

"I was worried about if I should join the thank festa today, but I decided to say thank you here as I don't like to leave without saying anything all the fans who have supported me," Kishi said in a speech.

Kishi was given a medal to commemorate reaching 1,500 career innings pitched. In 1,521 innings, all with the Lions, he had a career 3.05 ERA and 1,243 strikeouts over the course of the last 10 seasons. He was the final Kibouwaku draft pick, where the Lions would forego the first three rounds of the 2006 draft in order to obtain his rights.

He will be most remembered in 2008, where he took the Japan Series by storm. He would win Game 4 and later take a must-win Game 6 in long relief en route to the last Seibu Lions Japan Series championship. Kishi was named the 2008 Japan Series MVP as a result. He also threw a no-hitter in 2014, which is the last one to occur in NPB.

As Kishi turns 32 next week, he will get to return home to be with the Eagles as he is a Sendai native. Earlier this month, he signed a four year contract worth an estimated $4 million in annual salary.

Fans who listened gave him applause, but everyone knows he will enter another chapter in his baseball career.

"I have managed to play for these 10 years thanks to all your warm support, which I really appreciate and am so grateful for," Kishi said. "I will continue doing my best with this grateful feeling. Again, thank you all."

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Special thanks to @shiba_scope and Mizuho Miyazaki for translation help. 

Monday, November 21, 2016

An open letter to all minor leaguers: Embrace baseball abroad


Note: This is a hypothetical letter I would write to any baseball player who has spent a significant amount of times in the minor leagues. This is nothing more than my thoughts expressed in the form of a mock letter to them.

Dear Minor League Player:

It's that time of the year again where free agency strikes and many are looking for jobs. Sure, there are some high profile guys who are guaranteed to some a big contract somewhere else with a Major League club.

However, we're aware of how tough life can be for someone who spent a lot of time in the minors. It's not even easy for someone who will bounce up and down between the 25-man roster and on the fringe of the majors.

I give you the message to embrace baseball abroad. Offers won't come everywhere and understandably so. Straight up higher pay will be an easy option if a team in Korea or Japan gives more than a minor league contract. Yes, it will take a lot to swallow some pride of turning down a shot at the majors, but this journey is a unique experience.

Signed a contract to play overseas?  Great! Here's some tips:

Embrace the culture of where you're headed: Whether it's Korea or Japan, there will always be plenty of changes besides the obvious language differences. Don't approach your team as only a place to collect a paycheck. Sure, it can understandably be a first motive, but don't show it. Making early impressions within the team and area can go a long way.

Learn a few sayings in another language: Don't be like Jonny Gomes and be in shock that players speak another language. You will be dependent on your interpreter quite a bit and no one will blame you. However, don't be reserved, go out of your comfort zone and take some pointers from former players and others.

Inspect your bags before and after packing: Don't be caught with something illegal. Bring what you feel would be appropriate in the new country you're headed to. Anything that is inappropriate (i.e. weapon, drugs) should be removed. 

Never give up: Yes, this sounds like a cliche phrase that we always hear, but you'll notice that players abroad will workout to death. They will have a lot to expect from you too. You will have to pounce at any opportunity you're given.

Did you sign in Japan? Here's some advice we can give based on observation with the league:

There are no fastball counts: If you are a hitter, don't expect a fastball to ever come on a 2-0 count. It sounds easy to hear this and let it go, but beware. This is one of the largest differences between Japan and baseball in the States that everyone seems to notice. Pitchers in Japan will throw what they are comfortable with and do whatever it takes to get someone out. There is no "control your fastball" mentality in Japan. If you're a pitcher, expect the catcher you're working with to do the same.

Be careful with your body: As earlier mentioned, players will workout to death and you'll notice it right away. They practice before a scheduled practice and will continue to even do activity afterwards. It might sound insane to you. If you're not required to take part in some exercises, don't take it all at full speed. Japan's players may not be strongest or fastest athletes in the world, but they have to be one of the better conditioned with how much training happens all year long. An early injury could lead to a setback.

The manager is always right: This might sound subjective, but in the world of baseball in Japan, questioning authority is not going to help. It would be disrespectful and dishonor to make long arguments with the boss. So even if the manager is objectively wrong, players will have to knuckle under. Do not build a bad relationship or burn bridges if possible.

Every run counts: You're going to notice teams trying to play for one run with bunting (which might sound obvious), but also on defense there are shifts. Even early in a game with a runner on third, expect the infield to play in. Sometimes the outfield will play in if they trust their pitcher.  Don't be shocked to see how aggressive defenses are in this case.

Fan Service is taken seriously: When we think of fanfest, it's a simple gathering of fans with a few autographs and some hellos from others. Japan will have crazy marketing in the views of American lenses. While you don't need to sign autographs to every fan out there, don't be a stiff to others when away from the game. There will be fans who will embrace you as you join the team.

===

With the new journey ahead, nothing will be easy. Nothing is guaranteed, which you're probably familiar with. I hope going away from North America can bring a new life in you and not just be a business trip. Open up, get out of the comfort zone and take advantage of the resources you have while adapting away.  

Don't take your trip overseas for granted. Embrace it. Enjoy it and live life to the fullest. Best of luck in your endeavors. 

Sincerely, 
Graveyard Baseball.

===

Follow us on Twitter @GraveyardBall

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Report: Seibu Lions sign Shogo Kimura to ikusei contract, change two jersey numbers


The Saitama Seibu Lions announced they signed infielder Shogo Kimura to an ikusei contract on Friday afternoon.

Kimura, 36, will be rehabbing as he is recovering from a torn ACL, which he suffered on June 22. Having him under an ikusei contract will be a road to recovery, according to Senior Director Hisanobu "Nabe-Q" Watanabe.

In a limited time in 2016, Kimura had a slashline of .221/.262/.263 in 38 games and 95 at bats.  He only had three extra base hits for the entire season. Kimura spent time as a reserve infielder for both 3B and shortstop

This is the first time the Lions have used ikusei since 2015..Previously, he was with the Hiroshima Carp and Yokohama DeNA Baystars.  As an ikusei, he will be eligible to play in ni-gun games and will wear a triple-digit jersey number in No. 121.

In 2015, the Lions had 67 players on their 70-man roster with three players under ikusei contracts. Assuming that Kimura could earn an in-season promotion for 2017 and that they don't max out their roster, the Lions will have four roster spots available after the loss of Takayuki Kishi.

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Other note: The Lions announced that Hideto Asamura will be wearing No. 3 after having No. 32 for his entire career with the team. Nabe-Q said he suggested the change as Asamura earned his way through a strong 2016 season. Infielder Kyohei Nagae will be switching from No. 59 to No. 32.

The last Seibu Lions player to wear No. 3 was Hiroyuki Nakajima from 2004-2012. Kazuhiro Kiyohara also wore this number from 1986-1996.  

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Follow us on Twitter @GraveyardBall 

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Report: Rakuten Eagles to sign Takayuki Kishi


After filing for free agency several weeks ago, it appears the big question for Takayuki Kishi is finally answered.

The Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles are expected to sign Kishi to a four year contract on Thursday. His contract is estimated to be worth ¥1.6 billion (about $16 million) in total. If this was averaged out, it would make about $4 million in 2017, which is expected to be higher than Ernesto Mejia's salary.

Kishi, who will be 32 in December, is a Miyagi prefecture native as he went to high school in Natori, Miyagi and attended Tohoku Gakuin University in Sendai before he was drafted by the Lions in 2006. He is essentially returning home to where his baseball career started.

He is the final Kibouwaku Pick in Seibu Lions history, as they would forego the first three rounds of the University draft that year in order to obtain his rights.

The Lions had no chance to retain Kishi with an offer that Rakuten made. They had a set offer at four years with the financial terms undisclosed, but it was well-under the ¥1.6 billion that Kishi will make with the Eagles.

Kishi put himself on the NPB map as the 2008 Japan Series MVP, where he would win two critical games, including a Game 6 where he finished a must-win outing in long relief. He also threw a no-hitter in 2014, the last one to date in NPB.

With Kishi gone, the Lions have five open roster spots on their 70-man roster. They will have some big holes to fill with several young pitchers in the fold. This includes Yusei Kikuchi leading the way, followed by three straight first round draft picks in Kona Takahashi, Shinsaburo Tawata and a future projected ace in Tatsuya Imai.

The Lions will now have to choose the compensation with Kishi being a Type A free agent. They can either select 80% of Kishi's salary from Rakuten in cash, or 50% of the salary plus an unprotected player of their choice from the Eagles roster. The Eagles will protect 28 players from being selected.

Last time the Eagles signed a free agent which requires compensation, Toshiaki Imae was picked up from the Chiba Lotte Marines. The Marines would select the cash option with no player deemed worthy enough to pickup.

Kishi is the third player to leave the Lions in the Type A or Type B range. Previously it was Yasuyuki Kataoka, which the Lions would take Ryota Wakiya as compensation from the Yomiuri Gaints. Hideaki Wakui also signed with the Chiba Lotte Marines and the Lions took Taiki Nakago.

For us, this news was somewhat expected, but it also hurts. The Lions management refused to increase their offer when negotiating with Kishi before he filed for free agency. Historically, they don't put value on the ace pitcher like they do with an everyday hitter. It was a foregone conclusion he would leave when offered more money than what Mejia will be making.

The rotation will have to show some balance, but Kishi was also injured for two months in both 2015 and 2016. In the last two drafts, the Lions selected 12 pitchers combined. Unfortunately for Lions fans, there will be big shoes to fill with Kishi leaving for his hometown.

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Follow us on Twitter @GraveyardBall

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Graveyard Baseball Podcast: Lions ŌenDEN Episode 13


This is the 13th episode of the Lions ŌenDEN podcast.  In this episode, Christian and Wes talk about the Seibu Lions drat results, NPB Draft as a whole, a few offseason headlines and even discuss the U23 Baseball World Cup.

Other topics includes the Japan Series, retirements and more!



We apologize for any mispronunciations or errors that might take place in this podcast. Be sure to give us any feedback in the comments if possible. Click here to Download.  Click here if the embed doesn't work.

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Monday, November 14, 2016

Transcript: Brian Schlitter's introductory press conference




Brian Schlitter was signed by the Saitama Seibu Lions last week to a one year contract. He will make an estimated 80 million yen ($800K) for the 2017 season.

After signing him to a contract, he was given uniform number 47 and had a brief introductory press conference. Here is a transcript of what he said below:

Intro:

"My name is Brian Schlitter, I am from Chicago, Illinois, and I am very excited to be here, very happy."

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On differences between American and Japanese Baseball: 

"In a lot of ways it's similar to American Baseball, but at the same time, it's different. Everyone seems to be happy to be here and everyone makes the most of their opportunities. Everyone is giving their best."

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On playing in Japan:

"I'm looking forward to it. I'm ready for this season and I know right now it's still early, but it feels like it's going to be a good season."

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On profiling yourself as a pitcher:

"I am typically a power pitcher, per say. I give my best every single pitch. I'm very determined and I think that's a good thing to have in a pitcher and I can assure you that every time I pitch, I am giving everything I have."

===


Schlitter's measurements:

Date of Birth: 12/21/1985

Height: 195 cm (6' 5")

Weight: 106 kg (234 lbs)

Teams played for: Philadelphia Phillies (minors only), Chicago Cubs (2010, 2014-2015), Colorado Rockies (minors only)

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Schlitter will remain with the team in fall camp until November 17 in Miyazaki prefecture.

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Friday, November 11, 2016

2017 Seibu Lions schedule opens against defending champion Fighters

Opening Day for the Lions will be against the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters
The 2017 NPB regular season schedule was released on Friday afternoon. For the Saitama Seibu Lions, they will be facing the defending champion Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters on March 31.

With the World Baseball Classic happening in March, the regular season for NPB will kick off a week later than before, making the season end a week into October as a result. This will be the second straight time the Lions play at the defending champion's home opener as they saw the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks in Fukuoka for 2016.

Here are links to the full schedule for the Seibu (西武) Lions:

(Home team is listed on the left)

April 2017 Schedule

May 2017 Schedule

June 2017 Schedule

July 2017 Schedule

August 2017 Schedule

September 2017 Schedule

October 2017 Schedule

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Here is the list of special or irregular games to pay attention to on the schedule:

3/31 - Opening Day against the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters in Sapporo Dome

4/4 - Opening Day for the Seibu Lions home opener facing the Orix Buffaloes

4/11 - The Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles play a home game in all 5 surrounding Tohoku prefectures besides their normal home at Kobo Stadium in Miyagi prefecture. For April 11, the Lions will be the road team in Koriyama, Fukushima. It will be the first time they've been in Fukushima since 2015, when they faced the Yomiuri Giants.

4/18, 5/25 and 8/25 - The Lions will play in Omiya, which is deeper into Saitama prefecture. This is usually a tradition to have three games out there. They will see Rakuten on 4/18, Fighters on 5/25 and Orix Buffaloes on 8/25.

4/25, 5/12, and 9/1 - The Lions will have three games in Hotto Motto, Kobe against the Orix Buffaloes.

5/23 - The Lions will have a home game in Maebashi, Gunma.  This is the same city where Kona Takahashi played baseball in high school and he will most likely start the game in front of his home crowd barring no injury.

6/27 and 6/28 - The Lions will have two home games in Naha, Okinawa against the Chiba Lotte Marines. NPB always has two games in Okinawa every regular season and this time it falls on the Lions. The cool bonus is how Hotaka Yamakawa and Shinsaburo Tawata are Okinawa natives. This will be the first time the Lions have played a home game in Okinawa since 1961, when they were Nishitetsu Lions.

7/3 and 7/4 - The Lions will be the road team in Tokyo Dome against the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters. As with tradition, the Fighters play a handful of home games in Tokyo Dome, their former home building before they moved to Sapporo as a way to satisfy their fans who live in the Kanto region.

7/15 - All Star Game #1 will be in Nagoya Dome (Chunichi Dragons)

7/16 - All Star Game #2 will be in QVC (name change coming soon) Marine Field in Chiba.

7/19 - The Lions will be in Kitakyushu (northern part of Fukuoka prefecture) to face the Softbank Hawks.

10/5 - The final scheduled regular season game for the Lions will be in Seibu Dome against the Fighters, like last season.  Like anything, there could be makeup games after this date.

In the event there is rain at any of these special location games and no official game was played, the makeup will happen at the home team's traditional home and fans in the area away get robbed of seeing a game.

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Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Report: Seibu Lions sign Brian Schlitter

Photo Credit: Seibu Lions
The Saitama Seibu Lions have fall camp ongoing for the month of November, but they already brought an addition to the fold. They have signed Brian Schlitter after he passed a physical.

Schlitter, who will be 31 in December, was last with the Colorado Rockies organization in 2016. After being drafted by the Phillies out of college, he spent majority of his career with the Chicago Cubs. He would appear in the majors for the first time in 2010 and was part of the Cubs bullpen mostly in 2014. In 78 major league games he has a career 5.40 ERA, 4.26 FIP and a WHIP of 1.691.

In AAA with the Rockies, he had a 3.64 ERA, 1.500 WHIP, but a 9.2 strikeouts per nine innings in 42 innings and 36 games.

The Lions most likely hope Schlitter can be a reliever for the 7th or 8th inning. His strikeout ratio was interesting in AAA and best yet, they will have an up close look at him in Miyazaki's fall camp.

Schlitter will be with the team November 10-17 for one week for a early evaluation.

With Kishi filing for free agency, the Lions currently have five roster spots open on their 70-man roster.

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Thursday, November 3, 2016

Three Lions to work down under with the Melbourne Aces in Australian Baseball League

Graphic Via Melbourne Aces
The Saitama Seibu Lions continued their offseason partnership with the Melbourne Aces as the latter announced three players joining them for the season. Pitchers Keisuke Honda and Shogo Noda as well as outfield Hitoto Komazuki are going to be working Down Under for the winter (summer down under) in Australia.

All three players will be with the Aces from November 14 to December 25.

Honda, 23, was the Lions 6th round draft pick in 2015 and is more remembered for sharing the same name (sound and kanji) as a midfielder currently playing for AC Milan. He was given one spot start last year and made his ichi-gun debut out of the bullpen in September.

For the U23 World Cup in Mexico, Honda was the opening starter where he pitched 7 shutout innings and should appear for the next round for Samurai Japan's team. He was the only Lion to be represented for Samurai Japan.

Noda, 23, was a third round pick in 2015 out of an industrial league team. He would become part of the bullpen in the middle of the year and served as a lefty specialist. At one point in the season, he would receive some high leverage innings as a setup man. In 22 games, he registered 18.1 innings with a 3.93 ERA to go with 15 strikeouts and five walks.

Komazuki, 23, was drafted out of high school in the third round of the 2011 NPB Draft. He has never played an ichi-gun game and has remained buried in the farm. He also never had a batting average above .230 in his ni-gun career. Last season, he had a slashline of .230/.314/.362 with the Lions farm team, who went 58-48-8, which was good for third place in the Eastern League.

This will be the sixth consecutive year that the Lions send players to get work with the Aces as it began in the fall (spring down under) of 2011. Notable players who have been sent to Australia on the current Lions 70-man roster includes Yusei Kikuchi, Yasuo Sano, Fumikazu Kimura, Hirotaka Koishi, Makoto Aiuchi, Toshihiro Iwao, Komei Fujisawa, Shota Nakata, Isamu Sato, Kazuki Miyata, Kentaro Fukukura and Ryohei Fujiwara.

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Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Report: Takayuki Kishi will file for free agency


With the Japan Series now over, attention turns to free agency and the offseason. Takayuki Kishi informed the Saitama Seibu Lions that he will exercise his international free agent option and test the market on Wednesday morning (in Japan time).

Kishi, who will be 32 in December, is eligible to sign anywhere as an international free agent for the first time in his career. He has been the Lions best pitcher over the last decade and put himself on the map during the 2008 Japan Series by winning the MVP award.

In 2014, Kishi threw a no-hitter against the Chiba Lotte Marines and it's the last one to happen in NPB. Last year, Kishi missed two months of action with an abductor muscle injury, but went 9-7 with a 2.49 ERA in 130.1 innings.

When healthy, Kishi's value have been important for the Lions and it would be a huge loss if he were to walk to another team. Here is the current path choices that Kishi could take based on reports:

Return to the Lions

In his last game with the Lions, fans put up graphics wanting him to return. The sign on the right says fans want to be with Kishi. 

The Lions reportedly offered him a four year contract, but it wasn't enough to get him to sign without filing his option. It's possible that this is all about testing the waters to see his value and possibly find a better offer elsewhere. Kishi wouldn't commit one way or another after his final game, but there is still a change he can come back.

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Sign with the Rakuten Eagles

The Eagles are the only NPB team known to openly want Kishi at the time of this writing. Location makes even more sense, as he went to university directly in Sendai and is a Miyagi prefecture native. In a lot of ways, he would be returning home if he signed with the Eagles based on geography. This doesn't mean the Eagles were his team growing up, as they didn't exist when he was a child and only started as a franchise in 2005, his junior year at University.

Last year, the Eagles signed former Chiba Lotte Marines infielder Toshiaki Imae and it's likely they aren't scared of opening up their checkbook. Manager Masataka Nashida and the Eagles cleaned house with several players cut, making plenty of room in what is a new era for the team.

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Sign with another NPB Team

There hasn't been any links about other teams who are interested in Kishi, but adding him wouldn't hurt their rotation. Maybe a dark-horse comes in with an offer?

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Sign with an MLB Team

This would be an unlikely scenario given his age, but he is eligible. If Kishi signed with someone in North America, it would presumably be for less money than what Japan would pay him. However, it would give him an opportunity he wouldn't get elsewhere in the States (or Canada).  There is no way he signs to a similar contract to what Seung-Hwan Oh made with the St. Louis Cardinals, but if someone wants a cheap minor league signing for organizational depth, it wouldn't hurt them.

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So what is likely to happen? 

Here's how I see it happening: If he gets an excessive offer from the Rakuten Eagles, he is as good as gone. The Lions are known to not value the ace or top pitcher to make them the highest paid player on the team. Ernesto Mejia will make around $3.5 million in 2017 and should be the highest paid Lion based on the year he had.

If any team gives Kishi a five year offer with the first year being more than Mejia's salary, say goodbye. There is no way the Lions match an offer and win a bidding war of a $4 million salary and/or lengthy offer.  Of course if an MLB team has interest and he wants a chance to see what it's like in North America, there could be a chance he leaves.

However, it is still likely that it will be a bidding war between Rakuten and the Lions for his rights. If he signs with the Eagles, the Lions presumably will get compensation through either cash + unprotected payer or more cash. Last year when the Eagles signed Imae, Chiba took the cash option and with the way their roster is through a wave of rebuilding, it wouldn't be surprising if the Lions did the same.

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Seibu Lions part ways with Vasquez, Paulino and Lee


In what was another offseason announcement of cuts, the Saitama Seibu Lions announced three players who would not be back for next season. Imports Esmerling Vasquez, C.C. Lee and Felipe Paulino will not be offered a contract and have become free agents, as announced on Tuesday.

Vasquez was the only foreigner retained from the wave of imports from 2015. He would end up being inconsistent with control and was eventually demoted after a poor inning in July where he hit multiple batters with the bases loaded. Vasquez had a 5.51 ERA in 16.1 innings.

Lee would fail to earn meaningful innings outside of opening day and fell out of favor with the coaches early on. It just never came together in spring training and it stemmed over into the regular season.

The team tried to ease him in during a 6-0 lead against the Softbank Hawks back in March, but he failed his test and only had low leverage outings since then. In 16.2 innings with the ichi-gun, he would have a 6.48 ERA.

Paulino was a mid-season addition after it was clear the Lions didn't have the starting pitcher depth they needed as both Yusei Kikuchi and Takayuki Kishi were injured. He would start a handful of games, but earn no wins and began to fall off with a demotion to the bullpen.

While his record was not good, Paulino should have earned at least one win, but he either wasn't getting run support or defense behind him. With 44 innings pitched, he would go 0-6 with a 4.70 ERA and didn't see ichi-gun time in September.

With the Lions cutting three players, that means two other imports will most likely be retained for 2017. Chun-Lin Kuo will be 25 in February and the most recent gaijin Brian Wolfe passed his audition test with a strong end to the regular season.

Wolfe, who turns 36 at the end of this month, had a decent run of four games where he had a 3.04 ERA in 23.2 innings. The Lions gave him enough run support to have a 4-0 record, but he gave them a chance as well.

Compared to other imports, Wolfe already has experience in Japan and knows what it's like being in the Pacific League. Despite his age, his arm does not have the same mileage on it like other pitchers as he spent most of 2014-2015 recovering from an injury.

The Lions also gave Ernesto Mejia a three-year extension right before the regular season ended. If we include Atsushi Okamoto's retirement, the Lions officially have cut 10 players from their 2016 roster. With six players drafted, assuming they all sign, it would create four open roster spots which should bring in a new wave of imports.

Their obvious need will be pitcher once again, but a defensive minded infielder wouldn't hurt. Expect at least two foreign signings from this winter with the possibility of up to four.

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Saturday, October 29, 2016

Fighters win 2016 Japan Series, continuing Pacific League dominance


The 2016 Nippon Series ended with a 10-4 victory by the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters over the Hiroshima Toyo Carp on Saturday night. In what was a dramatic series, it would be the Pacific League once again getting it done for the fourth straight year.

Coming into this matchup, it was considered to be even with the talented Carp entering their first Japan Series since 1991. They had some of the best offensive numbers and the greatest run differential in 2016. The Fighters also had a strong year winning the Pacific League pennant after trailing the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks by as many as 11.5 games.

After going up 2-0 in the series, the Carp were initially cruising and led Game 3 in Sapporo through seven innings with Hiroki Kuroda leading the way. The Fighters were able to claw back in the 8th inning off Jay Jackson with a double by Sho Nakata that just fell and gave them the lead. While the Carp tied it in the top of the 9th, it would be Shohei Otani who delievered a walkoff single in the bottom of the 10th off Daichi Osera.

Game 4 was also a close battle with both teams tied 1-1 after seven innings. Jackson once again was the culprit to blow it with a two-run home run by Brandon Laird in the bottom of the 8th. To make matters worse with the bases loaded, Naoki Miyanishi struck out Yoshihiro Maru with a slider outside to end the game.

It would be a rinse and repeat performance by the Carp bullpen in games 5 and 6, where the relievers coughed up the runs. Shota Nakazaki gave up a sayonara grand slam to Haruki Nishikawa in Game 5 and a crooked six-run inning in Game 6 off Jackson sealed the deal.

What made the Fighters become the champions for 2016? Defense and next man up. Coming into the series, it was all about how Shohei Otani would be through both his pitching and hitting. He only pitched in Game 1 and wasn't even needed in Game 6 where they could have pinch hit him for Anthony Bass.

The defense for the Fighters has always been good due to the range from the infield and outfield. Speed has always been their specialty. Not only that, but the second half had the Fighters not pitch Otani for majority of it as the team stuck with a rotation by committee.

Hirotoshi Masui switching from being a closer to a starter was huge. Chris Martin took over the closer role for the regular season and helped take innings in the bullpen before he left with injury.

In the Japan Series, it was all about their foreign imports making waves. Anthony Bass, a pitcher who spent time in the rotation and bullpen throughout the season came in some high leverage situations in a tie game. He would earn three wins in the postseason with 6.2 scoreless innings and even had an RBI single in Game 6 with the bases loaded.

Brandon Laird literally proved to be a home run signing from 2015, where he was the Pacific League Home Run King in 2016 and hit three home runs in the Japan Series. He would win the Japan Series MVP title where he hit a grand slam in Game 6 and a game winning HR from Game 4.

The most unsung hero of the bunch was Luis Mendoza, who will be remembered for Game 5. He didn't appear in the Fighters rotation in September, but it was the game of his life on Thursday. After Hideki Kuriyama pulled the quick hook on starter Takayuki Kato in the 2nd inning, Mendoza took over and only allowed one hit and one walk through 5.2 innings.

Call it some terrible logic, but the Fighters were also battle tested unlike the Carp throughout the entire regular season. Facing talented lineups from the Hawks, Chiba Lotte Marines and Saitama Seibu Lions has made the rest of the competition stronger in the big picture. For the Carp, they would dominate the bottom class teams, but the Yomiuri Giants could have given them fits in a series.

In the 21st Century, the Pacific League has won the Japan Series 11 of a possible 16 times. They only years where the Central League won was 2001 (Swallows), 2002 (Giants), 2007 (Dragons), 2009 (Giants) and 2012 (Giants). With Central League teams going through a transition, it wouldn't be surprising if this trend continues in the next 2-3 years.

For MLB fans, this could be the start of something big as we could be on Shohei Otani watch sooner rather than later. It took a recruiting process to convince Otani to sign with the Fighters after he initially had intentions to go straight to North America from high school.

There were many promises left behind closed doors which drew Otani to the Fighters after he was drafted. One of the goals was most likely a Japan Series title, which the team now has. If there was a strict agreement to have him posted after a Japan Series championship, then there is a chance he could come to MLB in 2017.

However, this is still an unlikely scenario with how many years of control Otani has left. When the 2017 NPB season ends, the Fighters decision on Otani will be very interesting and it will be the most probable year he gets posted.

At the end of the day, the Fighters are champions for the first time since 2006, when Trey Hillman was managing and Yu Darvish was part of their rotation. Lots of questions remain on Daikan Yoh for next year, but in the meantime, they should enjoy the party and parades to come.

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