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Get ready, fans, for what promises to be a whirlwind, action-packed offseason with an extra-hot hot stove league or, as they say here in Japan, the “hot hibachi” league. Going to be a heckuva offseason.

Now that the expansion franchise has been awarded for a new Pacific League team in Sendai, the merged Orix Buffaloes team will on Nov. 4 release its protected list of 25 players, and procedures will begin to stock the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles expansion team with leftover players from the former Kintetsu Buffaloes and Orix BlueWave rosters.

The Orix Buffaloes (saying that name will take some getting used-to) will be protecting their ace pitcher, righty Hisashi Iwakuma (15-2 with a 3.01 ERA this season) and outfielder Koichi Isobe, the team’s player representative who batted .309 with 26 homers and 75 RBIs and fought so hard with Japan Pro Baseball Players Union chief Atsuya Furuta in trying to derail the Orix-Kintetsu merger.

Both players are ticked off, however, at what their owner did, and they want to play somewhere else, so it will be interesting to see what kind of trades will be proposed to move Iwakuma, Isobe and possibly some other disgruntled former Kintetsu or BlueWave players to other clubs.

Lots of foreign players, as mentioned here a few weeks ago, will be changing teams, and all 12 organizations will be looking to import new gaikokujin blood for what promises to be a most interesting season in 2005.

The Hanshin Tigers have already tried out a pitcher named Darwin Cubillan, according to the Daily Sports paper. Cubillan, a Venezuela-born right-hander, has major league experience with the Toronto Blue Jays, Texas Rangers and Montreal Expos. He was with the Baltimore Orioles organization the past three seasons.

The Nikkan Sports says Hanshin, who recently released productive infielder George Arias, is looking to sign first baseman Tony Clark, former cleanup hitter for another Tigers team — Detroit — where his best season was 1998 when he hit .291 with 34 HRs and 103 RBIs.

Clark was a part-time player this year with the Yankees and is the guy who broke the Tokyo Dome scoreboard video screen and caused $5,000 worth of damage with a tape-measure home run shot during an exhibition game on the Yanks’ visit to Japan last March.

Also according to the Nikkan, Yokohama BayStars slugger Tyrone Woods is reportedly being offered a two-year contract worth 600 million yen by the Chunichi Dragons, but Hanshin is ready to roll out “more than 700 million yen” for two years for T.

One problem Woods had with Yokohama was that the team was paying first baseman Steve Cox a reported 640 million yen for two years. After Cox blew out his knee in a spring training exhibition game in March of 2003, the Stars wound up eating most of that contract.

It was not easy for Woods to be out there working hard every day, hitting 40 and 45 home runs respectively in 2003 and 2004, and being paid 100 million yen while Cox was getting more than three times as much after being released.

So it would appear Tyrone may headed for Koshien but, if the Tigers also sign Clark, what are they going to do with two first basemen in a league with no designated hitter?

Speaking of which, I can’t wait to see the 2005 schedule to see how Japan’s first interleague play will be set up, and what will be done about the DH rule and the announcement of starting pitchers when Central League teams play against their Pacific League cousins. My guess is they will play by Pacific League rules when interleague games are played in the P.L. teams’ home parks.

We also have a team of Major League All-Stars coming in Wednesday, so welcome to Japan to all involved with the tour. No Ichiro Suzuki, Hideki or Kazuo Matsui on the big league squad, but the Japanese fans will look for pitchers Kazuhisa Ishii of the Los Angeles Dodgers and Akinori Otsuka of the San Diego Padres.

The marquee names include Houston Astros pitcher Roger Clemens and Boston Red Sox postseason heroes David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez. Outfielder Brad Wilkerson will apparently be the last player to wear the Montreal Expos uniform in a professional game.

Then, after the MLB boys clear out on Nov. 14 following their eight-game trip that will take them from Tokyo to Fukuoka, Osaka, Sapporo, Nagoya and back to the capital, look for the Japanese baseball amateur draft on Nov. 18 and a plethora of baseball news almost every day until spring camps open Feb. 1.

I would like to express my sadness in hearing that former Japan Times managing editor Gyo Hani died last week in Tokyo. It was Hani, along with another former editor, John Yamanaka, who responded positively when I approached them about writing a series of articles on Japanese baseball in the paper in 1975.

That led to the inauguration of the “Baseball Bullet-In” column in 1976, and here we are, 28 years later. I owe both Hani and Yamanaka a great deal and just want to say thanks, old friend. Rest in peace.

Finally this week, a high school classmate of mine, Bob Bailey, has compiled a book titled “Baseball Burial Sites.” As the title suggests, it is a collection of lists of the final resting places of major league players and managers, owners and executives, writers and broadcasters who have died.

If you ever want to take a tour of cemeteries in North America to lay flowers on the graves of your favorite deceased players, this is the volume for you.

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