With just 13 days remaining until the start of spring training, it appears George Arias and Roberto Petagine may have reached the end of the line in their productive careers in Japanese pro baseball.
So far, neither slugging first baseman has been signed to a contract, and most of the Central and Pacific League clubs have reached their quota of foreign players for the 2005 season.
Arias was dropped by the Hanshin Tigers after a five-year stint in Kansai. He played two seasons (2000-2001) with the Orix Blue Wave in Kobe and three years (2002-2004) with Hanshin.
His best season was 2003 when the Tigers won the C.L. pennant, and Big George slammed 38 home runs, drove in 107 and batted .265.
His best day of that season was Sept. 15, when Hanshin clinched its first championship in 18 years, and Arias’ son, Nicholas, was born.
But the Tigers went down in 2004, and so did the player. The team slipped from first to fourth place, and Arias’ power numbers fell to 25 homers and 84 RBIs, though he posted a career-in-Japan high average of .272.
He said himself in late September he did not expect to return to the Tigers in 2005 but was hoping to hook on with another Japanese team, preferably the Yomiuri Giants.
Arias loves to hit in Tokyo Dome and did a lot of damage during Kyojin-Hanshin games the past three years.
Petagine, meanwhile, did not have his contract renewed by the Giants for whom he played in 2003-2004 after four seasons (1999-2002) with the Yakult Swallows.
Yomiuri signed Peta to take the place of Hideki Matsui, his former Central circuit home run king rival who left for the New York Yankees two years ago but, despite his being paid a reported 720 million yen per season, Petagine was used only as a part-time player because of defensive position restrictions and injuries.
There is no designated hitter system in the CL, and the Giants had fan favorite and also highly paid (450 million yen) Kazuhiro Kiyohara at first base, the same position Petagine plays.
Yomiuri manager Tatsunori Hara tried Roberto in left field during the 2003 campaign, but he came up with knee problems and missed part of the season recuperating from surgery.
The 2004 skipper, Tsuneo Horiuchi, said he would absolutely not play the left-handed hitting Petagine in the outfield but would platoon him and the righty-swinging Kiyohara at first base; necessarily creating a situation of wasted money and talent.
This time it was Kiyohara who was injured, and Petagine got to play 117 games, batting .290 with 29 homers and 84 RBIs.
There was talk over the winter Kiyohara might be traded or released, opening the door for Yomiuri to keep Peta (though at a much lower salary) or pick up Arias.
However, the team decided to stick with the 37-year-old Kiyo and never made a move toward re-signing the 32-year-old Venezuelan or hiring the 31-year-old Californian.
It was thought perhaps Petagine might return to Yakult where he hit a team record 44 home runs in 1999, knocked in 127 runs in 2001 and batted .321 over his four seasons with the Swallows.
But the Birds have picked up outfielder Adam Riggs to join another Venezuelan, four-year Japan veteran Alex Ramirez.
Japanese teams can use three gaikokujin in their lineup, though, and that would be the only chance I see for Roberto at this point.
The Yokohama BayStars still have an opening for a foreign position player, having so far registered only Kevin Witt; like Arias and Petagine a first baseman.
Arias played third base during his years with Orix however, and the ‘Stars could use a hot corner man. George could hit 40-45 homers with cozy Yokohama Stadium as his home park and the Mizuno “High Flyer” as his home baseball.
It is a shame to see both these guys get shut out if, indeed, that is what is happening. They are still young, they are two of the most exciting home run hitters in Japanese baseball, and the end of their careers here would be premature.
Another American who has played for two teams in Japan and would like another shot is pitcher Marc Valdes. He was the closer for the 2002 Hanshin club but, despite posting a 4-3 record with 22 saves and a 1.54 ERA, he was cut by the Tigers and threw as a middle reliever for the Chunichi Dragons in 2003 and 2004, and he won a Japan Series game last October.
Marc says he would love to pitch for the Yomiuri Giants where he would do his best against Hanshin and Chunichi, the two teams who released him.
But if he does not get another call from Japan, Valdes has a chance to sign with one of two clubs who played in Japan last year: the New York Yankees or his hometown Tampa Bay Devil Rays.
Who knows, maybe we’ll see Marc in the World Series this fall. Gambatte!
Same to ex-Dragons and BayStars relief ace Eddie Gaillard who has been signed to a minor league contract with an invitation to spring training with the National League’s Colorado Rockies.
From the (e-)mail bag, a message from the parents-in-law of Damon Minor, the new first baseman of the equally new Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles.
I mentioned last column he will be registered here as “Damon” so as not to invoke a “minor league” image.
Walt and Sharon Koontz of Sedan, Kansas, parents of Minor’s wife Allison, said Barry Bonds gave their son-in-law the sarcastic nickname “Tiny” when they were teammates with the San Francisco Giants a few years back.
Damon stands 6-7 (200 cm) and weighs 230 pounds (103 kg).
Friends also suggested his name should be changed to Damon Major when he was called up to the big leagues in 2000.
The Koontzes are looking forward to visiting Sendai this year and watching “Tiny” play for the Eagles.
Finally, a response to another item in last week’s column from that Anaheim, California, official who called the new “Los Angeles Angels at Anaheim” identity “absurd.”
Wrote John James Nicoletti, Public Information Manager for the City of Anaheim: “It is nice to know that, even in The Japan Times, the proposed name change is still considered ill-conceived.”
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