According to NPB Tracker and Yahoo! Japan, Texas is one of several clubs in on 33-year-old Japanese righthander Kenshin Kawakami, and under the surface there’s some reason to believe the Rangers could have a competitive edge if the player’s demands square up with the organization’s evaluation.
Kawakami sports a lifetime 112-72, 3.22 record in 11 seasons with the Chunichi Dragons (including one  in which his teammate was Akinori Otsuka). In his career, he’s fanned 7.3 batters per nine innings and walked just under two per nine.
One report says the crafty Kawakami features “the best cutter in Japan” and “exceptional control” of his low-90s fastball, though it lacks life, and mixes in a slow curve, a slider, and a relatively new forkball that has boosted his groundout rates. The 5’10″ “bulldog” is credited not only with good command but the type of tenacity that could make him a dependable back-of-the-rotation fit. He did miss some time in September with back trouble.
In five relief appearances for Japan in the Beijing Olympics this summer, Kawakami posted a 4.70 ERA. In the Bronze Medal game against Team USA, he surrendered a two-run double to Taylor Teagarden that busted up a 4-4 tie.
Interestingly, Kawakami’s agent is Dan Evans, who was the Dodgers’ General Manager from October 2001 through February 2004. During his entire tenure in Los Angeles, among those who worked for Evans in baseball operations were A.J. Preller and Don Welke. During that same time period, the Dodgers’ big league pitching coach was Jim Colborn.
That’s Preller, the Rangers’ Director of Pro and International Scouting. And Welke, Senior Director of Baseball Operations. And Colborn, Director of Pacific Rim Operations. Basically the franchise’s front line as far as Far East talent acquisition is concerned.
Kawakami has a blog at http://kk11.jp/top.html. You might enjoy it. If you can read Japanese.
I found this interesting: Jarrod Saltalamacchia had been playing every day for Escogido since arriving in the Dominican Winter League in mid-November, working two games out of every three at catcher, and the third at either DH or first base (with either Miguel Olivo or Danilo Sanchez catching on those days).
Saltalamacchia was home for Thanksgiving, during which Escogido played four times. Olivo caught the first three of those games, Sanchez the fourth.
Saltalamacchia returned to the Leones today, and of course manager Luis Natera immediately got his smoking bat (.435/.594/1.043 coming into Sunday) back in the lineup.
But rather than assuming his spot behind the plate, Saltalamacchia played first base, and Olivo caught.
Who knows? Maybe Natera didn’t want to thrust Saltalamacchia back into the more demanding defensive duties after a four-day layoff. Maybe there’s been a sudden directive to have Olivo catch on days his Royals organization-mate Dusty Hughes is pitching, which has been the case the last two times Hughes has been given the ball (though Saltalamacchia caught Hughes the time before that, Sanchez the time before that, and Anthony Recker the time before that).
Maybe Olivo, as a hitter, owns Licey righthander Matt Wright — though Wright is Royals property as well.
And maybe — most likely — there’s no story here at all.
But hey, it’s a week before the Winter Meetings, which is journalistic and bloggy turf for speculation wherever it can be shoehorned in.
Saltalamacchia, incidentally, struck out three times before doubling in the decisive run in the eighth inning of a 4-1 Leones win, which qualifies as a deep winter league slump for the 23-year-old switch-hitter.
Righthander Dustin Nippert didn’t pitch for Licey in the game (and hasn’t in eight days), but he’s been solid when he has gone to the mound, going 2-2, 3.48 in seven starts, yielding 30 hits (one home run) and 18 walks in 33.2 innings and striking out 33. League opponents are hitting .236 off the 27-year-old and are grounding out 1.34 times as often as they fly out.
Outfielder Julio Borbon, coming off a solid .287/.404/.425 Arizona Fall League campaign that featured a walk for every five at-bats — nearly four times the rate he’d posted at Bakersfield and Frisco in 2008 — has shown up for Aguilas in the Dominican Winter League. In his first two at-bats in that league (on Friday), he doubled (past Azucareros center fielder Ramon Nivar) and tripled, eventually coming around to score both times.
One local journalist got to the bottom of the discrepancy between the Texas and Boston reports of the trade return for Wes Littleton. The Rangers reported it as one player to be named later or cash, the Red Sox two players to be named later or cash. According to the local scribe, as we guessed on Friday, the ultimate return could depend on whether Littleton (who is out of options) makes Boston’s Opening Day roster — which could net Texas one or two players — or doesn’t — which might result in the Rangers receiving one player but more likely means the trade will be consummated by a transfer of cash.
Teams must decide whether to offer arbitration to their free agents by Monday night. Texas is expected to tender an offer to Milton Bradley, which means he’ll get a one-year contract if he accepts by a week from today and, if he doesn’t, the Rangers will get a compensatory supplemental first-round pick if he signs elsewhere (since he’s a Type B free agent). No surprise with this news.
The Rangers are not expected to make arbitration offers to Ramon Vazquez, Jamey Wright, or Jason Jennings, none of whom were classified as Type A’s or Type B’s and thus would not entitle Texas to draft pick compensation.
Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports speculates that if Kerry Wood doesn’t find a multi-year deal he likes, he could accept the Cubs’ offer of arbitration, but that Chicago could turn around and trade him (and his one-year commitment) to a team such as Texas.
Ken Davidoff of Newsday notes that the Mets have asked about catcher Gerald Laird this off-season, just as they did last year.
Want to get fired up for Texas Rangers baseball 2009? Click: http://texas.rangers.mlb.com/tex/fan_forum/excitement_video.jsp#excite_video
Nine very solid minutes.