The Yomiuri Giants have enough talent to run away with the Central League and Japan Series titles in 2010.
In fact, they might have too much talent.
The Giants are overflowing with quality players, but with only so many positions to go around, there could be a number of unhappy faces in the Yomiuri dugout.
Team chemistry doesn’t play as large a role in baseball success as it does in soccer or football, but a clubhouse full of malcontents bodes well for no team. Talent can count for remarkably little if a team isn’t properly motivated.
So manager Tatsunori Hara will earn his salary this season as he attempts to keep egos properly stroked while maintaining morale.
The Giants’ excess is more evident among their relieving corps than anywhere else. Yomiuri is bursting at the seams in the bullpen with a combined 655 saves between Kiyoshi Toyoda (157), Marc Kroon (152), Micheal Nakamura (103), the up-and-coming Daisuke Ochi (10) and the newly signed Masahide Kobayashi (233).
Kroon is secure in the closer’s role, meaning that former bullpen stars Kobayashi, Toyoda and Nakamura will be relegated to fighting with Ochi for the set-up job.
The role is nothing new to Toyoda. But Nakamura, acquired via trade in 2009, will again be left wondering why he was even added to the roster while a few months of riding the pine may leave Kobayashi with second thoughts about joining the team.
Among the starters, Tetsuya Utsumi, Shun Tono, Tetsuya Yamaguchi and Shugo Fujii will vie for spots in the rotation behind Dicky Gonzalez, Seth Greisinger and likely Wirfin Opisbo.
In the outfield, Yoshiyuki Kamei has expressed a desire to play center in the past, but 2009 CL Rookie of the Year Tetsuya Matsumoto has no intention of relinquishing the spot anytime soon.
Kamei can play all three outfield positions and first base, but his likely landing point may be in right field, which he manned during 98 games last season. His emergence as a hitter in 2009, .290 average with 25 homers, 75 RBIs, will ensure his bat is somewhere in the starting lineup.
That spells trouble for Yoshitomo Tani and Yoshinobu Takahaashi, the other two players vying for time in the outfield.
Tani was an invaluable piece of the puzzle late last year, rising to the occasion during the postseason. Tani hit .331 with 11 homers and 48 RBIs from the beginning of August.
Takahashi is still working his way back from an injury-riddled past two years. Under normal circumstances the star player would likely move back into the outfield mix, but Kamei’s rapid rise will keep him in the dugout.
Although if first baseman Lee Seung Yeop’s struggles stretch into the new year, Kamei may be called on to pick up the pieces. Again opening up the outfield to Tani and Takahashi.
Either way, the Giants might to be left with at least one high-paid star (Tani is owed ¥240 million this season, while Takahashi is due to make ¥350 million) left to mope on the bench.
The situation becomes even murkier should youngsters Taishi Ota (infield) and Hisayoshi Chono (outfield) show enough promise to get a look with the top team.
Managing an overabundance of star players is just part of the equation when leading the Yomiuri Giants.
Hara’s challenge will be finding a winning combination to put on the field, while maintain a high level of morale among the rest of the team and keeping them ready to contribute when needed.