The Yomiuri Giants, stung perhaps by pennant-less seasons in 2015 and 2016 or their inability to stay within 17½ games of the Hiroshima Carp last year, spent much of the offseason wheeling and dealing. Now one month into the 2017 season, their fans might be wondering what it was all for.
For all their headline-grabbing moves, the Kyojin at the one-month mark look scantly better than they did last season. Their new additions have mostly been either ineffective or injured, leaving the team looking like a victim of its own indulgence, at least early.
The team added to its pitching staff by signing former All-Stars Shun Yamaguchi (formerly of the Yokohama BayStars) and Masahiko Morifuku (Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks) as domestic free agents and trading for Mitsuo Yoshikawa (Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters), the 2012 Pacific League MVP. The team also signed former Seattle Mariner Arquimedes Caminero.
Yoshikawa made two starts this year, allowing six runs — five earned — in just 7⅓ innings, before being sent to the farm team. Morifuku is also with the ni-gun squad after allowing four runs in 6⅔ innings in seven relief appearances. Yamaguchi hasn’t played yet because of a right shoulder issue and might not even pitch on the farm until the second week of May. Caminero has done well, however, with seven saves and a hold in 12 appearances.
Yomiuri also added a pair of hitters in free agency, signing Casey McGehee from the major leagues and Daikan Yoh, formerly of the Fighters.
McGehee, who helped the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles win the Japan Series in 2013 before heading to MLB, has been pulling his weight. The 34-year old is hitting .284 with four home runs and 16 RBIs in 24 games. The injured Yoh has yet to play, with the team hoping he can return in May.
Probably not the start to the year the Giants envisioned during their shopping spree this winter. The team has gotten very little bang for its bucks so far, and that’s not an issue limited to just this past offseason, which speaks to the club’s depth.
At second base, former Pacific League All-Stars Yasuyuki Kataoka (a free-agent signing in the 2013 offseason) and Luis Cruz (signed in 2015) are both on the farm team.
McGehee’s signing squeezed Shuichi Murata (a free-agent pickup after the 2011 season) out of his spot and essentially replaced one good bat in the lineup with another when adding one should’ve been the goal.
Outfielder Garrett Jones, signed from the majors before last season, could’ve added some pop to a lineup in need of offense, but was kept on the farm to start the year and is now recovering from an injured thumb. Taishi Ota, who has more offensive upside than the players currently playing left and center field, was traded to the Fighters in the Yoshikawa deal.
Building through free agency and the occasional trade year after year is great when it works, but sometimes it pays to develop homegrown talent.
The big-spending Giants have had their fair share of free-agent flops in the past, including Tuffy Rhodes, who gave them one good year, and Gabe Kapler.
In recent years, with the exception of Murata, the team has mostly struck out with high-profile free agents since signing Michihiro Ogasawara from the Fighters after the 2006 season, and then raiding the Tokyo Yakult Swallows for slugger Alex Ramirez and pitcher Seth Greisinger, and also taking Marc Kroon off the BayStars’ hands after the 2007 campaign.
Among foreign players they’ve scouted themselves, reliever Scott Mathieson, starter Miles Mikolas, and infielder Jose Lopez (now with the BayStars) have been three of the hits in a sea of misses.
Again, this season is only a month old. There is every possibility Yamaguchi and Yoh provide a jolt once healthy, and Morifuku and Yoshikawa turn things around.
It’s not close to being time for Giants fans to panic. But after the way the year has begun, they would be forgiven for peeking at the return policy on the new toys they bought over the winter.
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