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CL Writing: Will BayStars Shine At Last?

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CL Writing: Will BayStars Shine At Last?

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When it comes to reloading their team on a yearly basis, the Yokohama BayStars have not exactly been front-runners for many big-name players. Their biggest splashes in the free-agent market last year was maintaining Daisuke Miura, and he hasn't exactly been the face of the franchise (except when pitching against the Hanshin Tigers).

The much-anticipated signings of Ryan Glynn and Dan Johnson (.215, 24HR, 57RBI) did not pan out at all, with the lack of run support eventually getting to Glynn (3-15, 5.11, 9 quality starts), and Johnson never recovered from a shoulder injury he sustained in early April.

More offseason signings from the 2008 free-agent class included former Cleveland Indians reliever Tom Mastny (1-5, 5.69) and Les Walrond (5-10, 4.80). Almost nobody seemed to pan out, so what does the BayStars front office do?

They clean house. Kaji Takao is the new President of the team, and they went right to the 2009 Japan Series Champions to replace last year's acting manager, Tomio Tashiro. Kaji hired away long-time pitching coach Takao Obana, who has brought nothing but success to pitching staffs across both leagues. Now he is being brought in for the first time as a manager. If anybody can cure the BayStars' perpetual case of ippatsu-byo, it's Obana.

Of course, a manager can't do it all by himself, and the 'Stars have been busy getting talent from all over the world. Yokohama has signed seven pitchers this offseason, with former Chiba Lotte Marines ace Naoyuki Shimizu being the top signing among them. Also signed were former SoftBank Hawk Takayuki Shinohara, and Chris Bootcheck from MLB's Pittsburgh Pirates.

However, the true problem for the BayStars the last 2 seasons has been a complete inability to hit with runners in scoring position, and it is puzzling. Granted, Shuichi Murata and Seiichi Uchikawa can't do it by themselves, so Yokomaha got more help offensively. A trade with Nippon Ham brought in reserve infielder Naoto Inada, and the team signed another former Fighter, Terrmel Sledge. The 'Stars then raided the Chiba Lotte Marines for underused catcher Tasuku Hashimoto and traded for Daisuke Hayakawa.

Will these moves be enough for the BayStars to return to respectability? It remains hard to say. Aside from the general ineffectiveness of the 'Stars acquisitions, a lot of them seem to get hurt, and others seem to be victims of a general impatience in the BayStars front office.

The BayStars are not going to put it all together in one year, nor will Machine Gun Offense magically revive itself in one season. The first thing the 'Stars need is a closer with Shun Yamaguchi moving to the bullpen. Bootcheck could be that man. The set-up men are there in Hiroki Sanada, and possibly Atsushi Kizuka. Stephen Randolph, if he returns, could make for a trio of reliable relievers who could be a good bridge to Bootcheck.

Murata, Uchikawa, and Yoshimura make for a great 3-4-5 combination in terms of power and contact, but the team in general needs to take more walks, as Johnson led the team in that category last year with 52. Uchikawa, by virtue of his hitting prowess, led the team in on-base percentage with a .369 clip.

I think the playoffs are still a pipe dream, but for some reason, the BayStars of 2010 remind me of the Tampa Bay Rays of 2008: a spunky team that has an odd mix of youth and experience. A pesky team that will never say die, and can beat you with their bullpen and has the ability to make late-inning comebacks.

Of course, this is all contingent on the BayStars having a solid bullpen, their weakest area the last few years. It is also contingent on Yokohama being able to make things happen when there are runners in scoring position.

Despite my confusing position, I still think 5th place is a fair expectation with this team this year, seeing as Hiroshima might have a bit of an identity crisis.

Best-case scenario: look for Yokohama to surprise people and be in contention for the playoffs before losing out to Yakult.
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