Takashi Saito

Kyuji Fujikawa

Japanese star closer Kyuji Fujikawa drawing interest from multiple teams, including Rangers

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One of the top relievers in Japan, right-hander Kyuji Fujikawa, is a free agent eligible to sign with MLB teams without going through the traditional posting process and Gerry Fraley of the Dallas Morning News reports that the Rangers are among multiple teams interested.

Fujikawa’s numbers in Japan are amazing. In eight years he’s never had an ERA higher than 2.01 and this season, at age 32, he posted a 1.32 ERA. He has 220 career saves and 914 strikeouts in 703 innings.

Plenty of Japanese relievers have had success coming to America, including Kazuhiro Sasaki, Takashi Saito, Shigetoshi Hasegawa, Hideki Okajima, Akinori Otsuka, and Koji Uehara. Fujikawa might be the best of the bunch in terms of his performance in Japan.

A tribute to Hideki Okajima, the 17th best reliever of all-time

Hideki Okajima
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Well, by one measure anyway.

After failing his physical with the Yankees, Hideki Okajima returned to Japan over the weekend, signing with the Softbank Hawks. He’ll bring with him the 17th best ERA+ among all major league relievers to throw at least 200 innings:

1. Mariano Rivera – 206
2. Takashi Saito – 199
3. Jonathan Papelbon – 197
4. Billy Wagner – 187
5. Mike Adams – 187
6. Joakim Soria – 181
7. Brad Ziegler – 173
8. Francisco Rodriguez – 172
9. Akinori Otsuka – 171
10. Bryan Harvey – 162
11. Peter Moylan – 161
12. Tom Henke – 157
13. Jeff Zimmerman – 152
14. Joe Nathan – 152
15. Alfredo Aceves – 151
16. Rafael Soriano – 149
17. Hideki Okajima – 149
18. Crad Cordero – 149
19. John Wetteland – 149
20. Joel Zumaya – 148

Obviously, that’s a silly list — many relievers not included have had better five-year runs than some of these short-career guys — but it does sort of demonstrate the quality of Okajima’s innings. My favorite Okajima factoid: he gave up a homer to the very first batter he faced (John Buck) in his major league debut and then went 21 2/3 innings without giving up another run

Okajima ended up 17-8 with a 3.11 ERA over 246 1/3 innings in five seasons with the Red Sox. He also had a 2.11 ERA in 21 1/3 innings postseason innings. And he did it all for about $7.5 million, which is less than Soriano will make with the Yankees this year alone.

Sayonara.

Running down the rosters: Arizona Diamondbacks

Gerardo Parra, Chris Young, Justin Upton
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Give the Diamondbacks credit; even though all of the team’s key players were already under control for 2012, they didn’t stand pat after winning the NL West crown last season. In writing the team’s postmortem last October, I stated that adding a No. 3 starter had to be the priority. That’s what the team did in trading for Trevor Cahill. The Diamondbacks also spent to re-sign Aaron Hill and Joe Saunders (after originally non-tendering him) and then made one of the winter’s most surprising additions in bringing in free agent Jason Kubel.

Rotation
Ian Kennedy – R
Daniel Hudson – R
Trevor Cahill – R
Joe Saunders – L
Josh Collmenter – R

Bullpen
J.J. Putz – R
David Hernandez – R
Takashi Saito – R
Brad Ziegler – R
Craig Breslow – L
Joe Paterson – L
Bryan Shaw – R

SP next in line: Wade Miley (L), Trevor Bauer (R), Joe Martinez (R), Barry Enright (R)
RP next in line: Sam Demel (R), Jonathan Albaladejo (R), Mike Zagurski (L), Zach Kroenke (L)

That’s not necessarily a great rotation — I think Hudson is the only one of the returnees likely to duplicate his 2011 performance — but it’s certainly one that will keep the Diamondbacks in games. The Cahill acquisition was excellent, though it came at the expense of the team’s most major league-ready pitching prospect in Parker. Fortunately, Bauer, the team’s first-round pick in 2011, might not be far behind.

The bullpen is underrated. Putz can’t be counted on to stay healthy, but he was terrific over the course of 58 innings last season and Hernandez is perfectly capable of filling in as closer. Ziegler is an underrated righty specialist and can be paired with Breslow and Paterson in the seventh inning. There’s also plenty of depth. I especially liked the move to sign Albaladejo, the Yankees castoff who spent last year in Japan.

Lineup
SS Stephen Drew – L
2B Aaron Hill – R
RF Justin Upton – R
C Miguel Montero – L
CF Chris Young – R
LF Jason Kubel – L
1B Paul Goldschmidt – R
3B Ryan Roberts – R

Bench
C Henry Blanco – R
1B Lyle Overbay – L
INF John McDonald – R
INF-OF Willie Bloomquist – R
OF Gerardo Parra – L

Next in line: C Craig Tatum (R), INF Geoff Blum (S), INF Cody Ransom (R), OF Cole Gillespie (R), OF David Winfree (R)

The Diamondbacks still don’t have a real leadoff hitter, but it’s a potent lineup anyway. They’ll likely again try to get by with Drew in the spot, or Bloomquist if Drew opens the season on the disabled list. I’m not a fan of Hill in the two hole either, but he did hit .315/.386/.492 in 124 at-bats after coming over from the Jays last season.

Everything after that looks good. The Diamondbacks finished fourth in the NL in homers and third in slugging percentage last season. I think they’ll improve on both of those positions this season. The two teams that finished ahead of them in slugging happened to be the teams that lost Prince Fielder and Albert Pujols.

Part of the reason for that is the Kubel signing. I’m not really sure he’s an upgrade on Parra in left field — the power will come at the expense of defense — but it did give the team a lot more depth. Now they can just plug in Parra if an outfielder gets hurt. Without Kubel, they’d be stuck playing Bloomquist regularly or trying Gillespie or Winfree in the event of an outfield injury.

Another thing the Kubel signing did was give the team six bench players for five spots. Unless Drew or someone else needs to start off on the disabled list, Blum, the recipient of a foolish two-year contract last winter, will probably be released.

At the end of last season, I wasn’t optimistic about the Diamondbacks repeating in 2012. Now, I am. Props go out to ownership for expanding the budget and GM Kevin Towers for bringing in a couple of quality pieces. They definitely had a better winter than the Dodgers or Giants.