J-Slanted: Good Grief, What a Relief

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By JORDAN IKEDA
Rafu Contributor

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Lots of movement we haven’t covered over the past few weeks, so we’ll get all of the transactions out of the way.

Relief pitcher Koji Uehara signed a one-year deal with an option for 2012 to remain with the Orioles. The deal will pay the 35-year-old $3 million. Uehara went 1-2 with a 2.86 ERA and 13 saves last season when he struck out 55 and walked just five batters in 44 innings.

It’s a good fit for Uehara, obviously. Moving to another locale would have re-started the entire integration process. For a guy who’s rapidly nearing the end of his American career, I’m sure that’s a road he would just as soon have avoided. In Baltimore, he’s worked through his myriad of injuries with the training staff and last season found a comfortable role as the closer. Plus, there’s plenty of young talent to be excited about. A no-brain decision for all involved.

The Angels signed former Mets pitcher Hisanori Takahashi to a two-year contract believed to be worth about $5.5 million. While he’s certainly not the shutdown closer or elite bullpen option the club sorely needs, he was solid last year with the Mets, flip-flopping between starting and relieving and even getting a chance to close when former Angels closer Francisco Rodriguez went down. Takahashi posted a 10-6 record with a 3.61 ERA overall, but was far more effective as a reliever with a 6-2 record and 2.04 ERA.

I like this signing as long as the Angels view the 35-year-old as a left-handed specialist a la Darren Oliver. However, if the Angels are going to use Takahashi to finish games, I’m beyond upset. Takahashi has a variety of pitches and succeeds based on his control. But the American League is a cruel and unusual place for soft-tossers.

A guy in the Takahashi mold is relief pitcher Yoshinori Tateyama, who signed with the Texas Rangers to a one-year deal with two club options. Like Takahashi, Tateyama will be 35 heading into next season, survives with elite control and is best used as a specialist. Last year, he posted a career-low 1.80 ERA in 58 appearances for the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters, the only team he has ever played for. Tateyama is a sidearm pitcher who mixes a 90 mph heater with a screwball and held right-handed hitters to a miniscule .186 average last year.

Solid and interesting move for the Rangers. Bullpen depth is always a good thing, though filling the black hole left in the wake of Cliff Lee signing with Philadelphia makes this signing look rather bleh two weeks later. Let’s just hope Tateyama won’t be following in the footsteps of Kazuo Fukumori, the last Japanese pitcher to sign with Texas. Fukumori made four appearances totaling four innings for the Rangers and gave up 9 runs sewing up a career 20.25 ERA. Of course, Tateyama has a far better track record over his 11-year career in Japan.

On the trade chatter front:

According to the Red Sox and manager Terry Francona, Daisuke Matsuzaka is not going anywhere. First, there’s that pesky no-trade clause in his contract. Then there’s the desire Boston management carrying seven starting options going into the season. Finally, I’m thinking there’s not much interest. While it’s possible that Matsuzaka could do better in the National League or in a bigger ballpark like Safeco or, dare I say, Dodger Stadium, there are just too many questions surrounding the former all-star. He went 9-6 with a 4.69 ERA last season and also rubbed Boston fans the wrong way with his work habits and training regimen and then mouthing off about it to the Japanese press.

Finally, with Lee off the table, the Atlanta Braves may find consolation in trading away Kenshin Kawakami to the Pittsburgh Pirates who continue to show interest. The Pirates are apparently willing to involve Paul Maholm in the deal, who the Braves would then flip for a centerfielder. For his sake, I hope this happens. Last year, everything that could have gone wrong, did. He lost his first 10 games, received some of the weakest run support in the majors, and suffered through an extended stint in the minors. For a 35-year-old former Central League MVP and Sawamura Award winner, going to the minors had to have been tough.

Kawakami deserves a better shot (though he won’t get much more offensive help on the Bucs), or at least another one. In the right environment, I think he could be very successful.

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Jordan Ikeda is a former Rafu Sports editor who writes from Torrance, CA. The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.

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