The Orix Buffaloes will hope taking right-handed pitcher Kazuyuki Kaneda from the Hanshin Tigers as compensation for the Tigers signing former Buffalos outfielder Yoshio Itoi in free agency ends up being a productive outcome for the loss of such a talented player, but history isn’t really on their side.
Kaneda is 26, and nowhere near worth the current value Itoi represents. Still, it’s possible playing in a different part of Osaka ignites his career. If it does, Orix’s move will represent one of the few times the human compensation portion of NPB’s free agency rules will have worked out for the team being compensated.
Under the current rules, which were altered in 2008, teams losing an A- or B-ranked free agent are entitled compensation from the signing team in the form of a straight cash payout or less money and a non-protected player from the signing club’s roster.
Most teams take the money and run. The Seibu Lions did that earlier in the offseason as compensation for losing ace Takayuki Kishi to the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles. Since free agency was introduced in Japan in 1993, the majority of teams have chosen cash over players as compensation.
Taking a player over cash, as Orix is doing, has proven to be a risky choice. Though for the Buffaloes, who finished 30 games out of first place and 15 out of a spot in the Climax Series, the risk is somewhat mitigated by the current state of the team — basically, what exactly does team already in last place have to lose.
Kaneda made 56 ichi-gun appearances, four starts, for Hanshin, and has a 7-1 record and 4.27 ERA in 78 innings. He was used most in 2014, making 40 appearances and posting a 3.61 ERA in 62⅓ innings.
It’s rare that teams get major contributions from compensation picks. That’s to be expected since compensating teams can protect 28 players, which takes the top stars and best prospects out of the mix.
That isn’t to say teams haven’t managed to turn up a few gems over the years.
The Hiroshima Carp plucked outfielder Masato Akamatsu from the Tigers’ roster after losing Takahiro Arai after the 2007 season. Akamatsu was an All-Star for the Carp in 2009 and won a Gold Glove in 2010. He’s still with the team, serving as a capable defensive replacement and a pinch-runner for the reigning Central League champions. Interestingly he’s now playing alongside Arai, who returned to Hiroshima in 2015 and was the CL MVP this past season.
The Tokyo Yakult Swallows also picked up a good player that season, taking veteran Kazuki Fukuchi as compensation after the Lions signed pitcher Kazuhisa Ishii. Fukuchi was a hit in his first two seasons with Yakult, hitting .294 and driving in 95 runs. He also led the CL with 42 stolen bases in both 2008 and 2009. His production began to wane as age began to take a toll in 2010 and he retired in 2012.
The Chunichi Dragons landed catcher Kohei Oda, also in 2007, as a compensation pick when the Giants signed Shigeki Noguchi. Oda was never a top player, but was a capable backup, mostly for Motonobu Tanishige, for nine seasons.
Success stories are few and far between, but the Buffaloes evidently are willing to roll the dice and it will be interesting to see how it plays out, and if more teams follow suit if it works.