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New-look Giants to lose M&M combo

by Wayne Graczyk

The Tokyo Yomiuri Giants, besides the big change in managers from Shigeo Nagashima to Tatsunori Hara, will also take on a new look with regard to the teams foreign player roster next season. The M&M combo of pitcher Darrell May and first baseman-outfielder Domingo Martinez are not returning, and it appears Maru-chan will be replaced by New York Mets Hawaiian outfielder Benny Agbayani.

The Kyojin still have three Korean pitchers (Cho Sung Min, Chong Min Chul and Chong Min Tae), and Hector Almonte, a Dominican relief pitcher hired at midseason last year, stayed and joined the Giants’ fall camp in Miyazaki, Kyushu, trying to make an impression on Hara and his pitching coaches in an appeal bid to be retained for 2002. Almonte attracted attention upon his arrival last summer but faded fast and spent the last two months of the season on Yomiuri’s Eastern League farm team. Reports are that his fall camp performance was not that impressive.

As a foreign replacement for starter May (10-8 in 2001), the Giants are most likely still searching for an American closer to fill the bullpen ace game-ending role the club has lacked. According to press reports, southpaw May has notified the team he wants to end his Japan career after four seasons, two with the Hanshin Tigers and two with the Giants. Durable Darrell never cared much for the Japanese style six-man starting rotation where he pitched every seventh or eighth day, and word is he may try a return to the majors where he can crack some team’s five-man rotation and throw every five or six days.

Martinez, used sparingly and mostly as a pinch hitter by Nagashima, said in September he would not be surprised if he were released at season’s end.

“I’m frustrated I have not had the chance to play much this year,” said Maru-chan. “But I understand. I did not expect to play ahead of the league-leading RBI man.”

He was referring to Giants first baseman Kazuhiro Kiyohara who led the Central loop in runs batted in most of the year, until overtaken at the end by the eventual MVP, Yakult Swallows slugger Roberto Petagine.

While Martinez is a more-than-adequate defensive first baseman, the Japanese impression is that he would best serve a Pacific League team as a designated hitter. Dominican Domingo had also been fired by the Seibu Lions after productive seasons in 1997 and ’98. Unless he can hook up with another team here, Martinez will probably play in Mexico, from where the Giants pulled him back to Japan midway through the 1999 campaign.

As for Agbayani, Hara is said to like the way the Honolulu hammer swings the bat, and battlin’ Benny has home-run experience in the Tokyo Dome. His blast to the center-field backscreen helped the Mets beat the Chicago Cubs in the second game of their 2000 National League openers at the Big Egg.

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While the Mets may be giving to Japan in the person of Agbayani, New York is also taking another Japanese player to the Big Apple. Free-agent pitcher Satoru Komiyama, late of the Yokohama BayStars, signed a contractual agreement in Tokyo last Saturday to join the Mets, his countryman Tsuyoshi Shinjo and manager Bobby Valentine, who supervised Komiyama while both were with the Chiba Lotte Marines in 1995.

Mets senior assistant general manager and director of international scouting Omar Minaya made a quick three-day trip to Japan to announce the acquisition of Komiyama at a Dec. 1 press conference.

“I felt it was important that I be here in person to welcome Satoru to our club,” said Minaya.

Komiyama, 36, shook off questions about his age, noting that 38-year-old Randy Johnson of the Arizona Diamondbacks just completed a 20-win season, won the National League Cy Young Award and was named co-MVP in the World Series after winning three games over the New York Yankees.

“I just want to pitch and will do my best as a starter or reliever, however Bobby (Valentine) wants to use me,” the right-hander said.

Komiyama is scheduled to formally sign an official pact with the Mets in New York on Dec. 17.

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I can’t believe the Orix BlueWave are waving goodbye to designated-hitter Joe Vitiello. Sure, he got off to a bad start and was in a slump for the first month of the season. But once he got a chance to play and get hot, the former San Diego Padres player was one of the most consistent hitters in the Pacific League.

Limited to 462 plate appearances, about four-fifths of a season’s worth, Vitiello still managed 22 homers and 83 runs batted in with a .275 average. Benched in April, he was the team’s cleanup hitter throughout most of the second half of the season and came through with some clutch hits.

Apparently, his replacement in Kobe will be ex-Montreal Expos infielder Fernando Seguignol (hope he has a nickname!). I don’t know what kind of player he’ll be here, but I wonder if he will do as well as Joe V. Other Japanese teams still looking for new foreign players might be wise to pick up Joe Vitiello; good guy, good player.

It has also been reported that infielder George Arias and his 38 homers are not returning to the BlueWave, and he may sign with Hanshin. In addition, if free-agent outfielder So Taguchi signs with another Japanese team or one in the majors as expected, Kobe will have lost its Nos. 3, 4 and 5 hitters and 68 home runs. How is new Orix manager Hiromichi Ishige going to replace all that missing power?

How about Domingo Martinez? Or Corey Paul, the Eastern League Triple Crown winner in 2000 and 2001, released last week by the Seibu Lions.

Also surprising is the announcement that PL champs the Osaka Kintetsu Buffaloes have let go of American pitchers Sean Bergman (a 10-game winner) and Jeremy Powell, and shortstop Shawn Gilbert. Why break up a winning team?