There has been a lot of cross-traffic in recent days with players switching from one Japanese team to another or heading for the majors. One question yet to be answered, though, is: Where will Alex Cabrera play in 2011?
Despite his being recently selected as the first baseman on the Pacific League “Best Nine” postseason All-Star team for 2010, the 38-year-old slugger was removed from the active roster last week by the Orix Buffaloes, and it remains to be seen if the Venezuelan first baseman will join a third Japanese team next season — or look for a return to the major leagues for the first time since 2000.
His MLB tenure consisted of 31 games with the Arizona Diamondbacks, after he played in Taiwan in 1999 with the China Trust Whales.
Cabrera has played 10 years in the Pacific League; the first seven with the Seibu Lions and the last three with Orix. He enjoyed his best times earlier in his career, having tied the single-season Japan pro baseball home run record with 55 in 2002 when he led Seibu to a PL pennant victory and Japan Series appearance and was named league MVP.
He also slammed 49 homers in 2001, his “rookie” year in Japan, and 50 in 2003. Since then, he has not hit more than 36 in a season.
Quietly, though, he compiled some pretty good statistics in 2010, belting 24 home runs and racking up 82 RBIs while appearing in only 112 games due to injury. His .428 on-base percentage was the best in the league.
For a while, it seemed he might win a batting title. He was leading the Pacific division in batting with a .340 average in July but ended with a .331 and finished fourth in the batting race. His performance was not that noticeable, however, because the Buffaloes remained out of pennant contention.
Japanese sports papers have carried the recent rumors Cabrera may be headed for the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks whose lineup has already been strengthened by the addition of two prize free agents. Catcher Toru Hosokawa has jumped from Seibu, and 2008 Central League batting champion Seiichi Uchikawa moved to the Hawks from the Yokohama BayStars.
On the down side, Cabrera turns 39 this month on Christmas Eve, but it should be pointed out his former Lions teammate Kazuhiro Wada, now with the Chunichi Dragons, was selected this year’s Central League MVP at the age of 38. Sometimes older players have that one great season — or two — left in the tank.
One advantage though, for Softbank or another Japanese club that might like to offer him a contract, is the fact Cabrera, like his countryman and namesake Alex Ramirez of the Yomiuri Giants, has cleared the eight-year service mark here and would not count against a team’s limit to register a maximum four foreigners at a time on its first- team roster. He would count on the Japanese player list.
His stats compiled over a decade of playing in Japan include 346 home runs, 911 RBIs and a .310 batting average.
Cabrera’s agent, Chicago-based Alan Nero, said in an e-mail, “Once (Alex) is officially a free agent, we will communicate with both MLB and NPB teams. I’m confident there will be lots of interest and will know more next week.”
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From the e-mail bag: Reader Seth Cervantes in Sapporo wrote to say, “Please mention some of the great things pro baseball players do for local communities. On Nov. 13, Sapporo’s Kitakujou Elementary School received a visit from former big leaguer and (current) Nippon Ham Fighters pitcher Masao Kida.
“He spoke in full uniform about the importance of exercise and hard work to students and parents for about an hour. (Note: Kida, 42, is older than most of the students’ parents.)
“Following his speech, he answered questions from students (I found out he had ambitions to be a mangaka, or cartoonist, and he likes trucks), and he threw a few game-day fastballs. Kida attended Kitakujou Elementary School and played on the Panthers, the school’s baseball club.”
Seth, I am well aware of the many community activities in which the professional players are involved. They often visit schools, orphanages and children’s hospitals, and they are to be commended for doing this.
Finally this week, a message from Shepherd G. Gross, who lives in Okinawa, but is currently in Afghanistan. He will be returning home in February and wants to know the schedule for Japanese baseball activities on the island during the coming season.
Shep, several Japanese and Korean teams will be holding spring training camps in Okinawa beginning on Feb. 1. The Yomiuri Giants will also be joining by splitting their workouts between their traditional preseason practice site in the southern Kyushu city of Miyazaki and Naha in Okinawa.
There will be some official and unofficial exhibition games played throughout your island at the end of February, and that schedule should be released in mid-December.
As for regular season games in 2011, the Yokohama BayStars will be playing the Hiroshima Carp in a pair of Central League encounters at the new Onoyama Stadium in Naha on July 5 and 6.
Contact Wayne Graczyk at: wayne@JapanBall.com
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