The Buffaloes just missed winning the pennant last season — Orix finished with two more wins than the champion Fukuoka Softbank Hawks, but the Hawks had the superior winning percentage, .565 to .563 — and should be in the thick of things again.

The Buffaloes already had perhaps the best all-around position player in Japan, outfielder Yoshio Itoi (.331, 19 home runs, 81 RBIs, 31 stolen bases in 2014) and may have bolstered their lineup with the additions of Hiroyuki Nakajima and Tony Blanco. Nakajima, back from two years in the U.S. minor leagues, may not be a great upgrade over second baseman Keiichi Hirano in the field but is much more dangerous with a bat. Blanco, if healthy, lessens the blow of jettisoning big-hitting Wily Mo Pena.

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