Baseball | BASEBALL BULLET-IN

Pondering managerial replacements for 2016 season

by Wayne Graczyk

The tenure of most major league managers comes to an end when they are fired. More recently, for example, the transactions column included notice the Washington Nationals fired manager Matt Williams and the Seattle Mariners dismissed manager Lloyd McClendon.

Somehow, though, Japanese managers don’t get “fired” any more. They either “step down,” “resign,” “leave the team” or take a “rest” from which they never return.

Orix Buffaloes skipper Hiroshi Moriwaki officially took a kyuyo (leave of absence) in May and did not come back. First-year Rakuten Eagles field boss Hiromoto “Dave” Okubo announced in September he would step aside at season’s end to take responsibility for the team’s last-place standing in 2015.

Buffaloes interim manager Junichi Fukura has been given the manager’s job full time, and Okubo has already been replaced by former Kintetsu Buffaloes and Nippon Ham Fighters manager Masataka Nashida.

Kiyoshi Nakahata decided not to continue leading the Yokohama DeNA BayStars, and Yutaka Wada dropped out as the Hanshin Tigers manager, both after heading the on-field operations of those clubs for four seasons. Who will replace them has been one of the main topics in the Hot Hibachi League, Japan’s version of the Hot Stove League.

Several years ago, I jokingly appointed myself as commissioner of the HHL, with Japan Times baseball writer Jason Coskrey as deputy. Sometimes he calls me on the phone and, when I answer, he says, “Hi, Commish.” We don’t get paid but, like the managers, we won’t get “fired” either.

It has not been a secret the Tigers want former star outfielder Tomoaki Kanemoto, 47, to be Wada’s replacement and, according to Japanese sports newspaper reports, the team was expecting Kanemoto’s decision by Saturday about whether or not he would take the job..

There has been more speculation regarding the BayStars possibly looking to hire a foreigner as Nakahata’s successor. In addition to 13-year NPB veteran Alex Ramriez, the names of former Nippon Ham manager Trey Hillman and ex-Yokohama second baseman Bobby Rose have surfaced on the rumor highway. Ramirez is 41, Hillman 52 and Rose 48.

Hillman managed the Kansas City Royals after his stint in Japan and served this year as the bench coach for Houston Astros manager A.J. Hinch. Rose has been a minor league hitting coach in the Texas Rangers organization.

Hanshin batting coach Tom O’Malley would also be interested in applying for the Baystars field boss job. O’Malley’s future, along with the other Hanshin coaches, is uncertain under a new Tigers manager — Kanemoto or someone else. O’Malley, 54, has experience managing the Newark Bears in the independent U.S. Atlantic League.

I wonder, too, if the BayStars people have thought about 59-year-old Jim Tracy. He was an outfielder with the Yokohama Taiyo Whales in 1983-84 and has managed three major league clubs: the Los Angeles Dodgers, Pittsburgh Pirates and Colorado Rockies, but he left Japan under strange circumstances in 1984.

Tracy had a halfway decent first year in Yokohama in ’83, batting .303 with 19 home runs and 66 RBIs. He was invited back in 1984 but quit after playing just three games. On Sunday of the opening weekend, the Whales were in a tie game when Tracy led off the bottom of the ninth inning and reached first base as the potential winning run.

Taiyo manager Junzo Sekine sent in a pinch runner, and Tracy protested, saying it was not a good decision, because his bat might be needed in extra innings if Yokohama failed to score in the ninth. He subsequently left the team and never played another game in Japan.

Meanwhile, in addition to checking out Japanese stars for possible future major league service, the scouts from MLB teams have also been looking at American pitchers in Japan who have had impressive performances this season.

Sure, the scouts traveled to the Central and Pacific League ballparks to see Shohei Otani of Nippon Ham, Kenta Maeda of Hiroshima, Tomoyuki Sugano of Yomiuri and Shintaro Fujinami of Hanshin, but they also caught on to Miles Mikolas of the Giants, Tony Barnette of Yakult, Kris Johnson of the Carp and Dennis Sarfate of the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks.

Mikolas was 13-3 and posted a Central League third-best ERA of 1.92 in his first year with the Giants, but it is likely to be his only season in Tokyo. Just 27, the former San Diego Padres and Texas Rangers right-hander has more than hinted he would like to return to the big leagues where he had only 37 appearances.

Asked by sportswriters how he felt about starting a recent Yomiuri game on four days’ rest, Mikolas replied, “I have no problem with it, and it is something I will have to get used to anyway when I go back (to the U.S.) next year.” It did not sound like he was joking.

Barnette, 31, has never played in the majors and is coming off his best year with the CL champion Swallows, having racked up a league-leading 41 saves to go with a 3-1 record and 1.29 ERA in 59 appearances. The Yakult closer has said he will see what kind of offers he gets after the season, but it would be difficult to leave the Swallows who have stuck with him through thick and thin for six years.

Johnson, 31, won the Central League ERA title with a 1.85 mark and was 14-7, and the 34-year-old Sarfate led the Pacific circuit with 41 saves while going 5-1 with a 1.11 ERA in 65 games. Both are expected to remain with their Japanese clubs in 2016.

Contact Wayne Graczyk at: Wayne@JapanBall.com