Trey Hillman, it seems, has leveraged his experience in Japan (he was as a god there, after all) into free agents for the Royals, namely relievers Yasuhiko Yabuta and Hiroki Kuroda.
The Yabuta deal is done. The 34-year-old reliever underwent a resurgence of sorts four years ago when he entered the bullpen full-time, as he's posted a 2.80 ERA in 222 appearances since then for Chiba Lotte. As Dick Kaegel reports in the above link, "Yabuta made a splash in the 2006 World Baseball Classic, won by Japan, when he struck out Alex Rodriguez, Derrek Lee and Johnny Damon in a 1 1/3-inning outing against Team USA." Now he's poised to fill Zack Greinke's role as the primary setup man, possibly for Joakim Soria (though I'd like to see Soria in the rotation).
Kuroda is being pursued. Hillman and Dayton Moore are competing with the Diamondbacks and Mariners, who play in a Japanese-friendly market, but there's reason to believe the Royals have a legitimate shot at this guy, who posted a league-best 1.85 ERA in 2005. And that reason, of course, is Hillman.
Hillman remembered that after Kuroda beat his Fighters a couple of years ago, he asked the Carp for permission to talk to the pitcher the next day.
"That's the only time in my five years here that I asked to meet with an opposing Japanese pitcher," Hillman said. "But I told him what a great competitor he was. He just dominated us. I told him how impressed I was with him."
Familiarity breeds friendship, I'd think. If the Royals can get Yabuta, you can consider the Japan-to-Kansas City pipeline officially open.
To commemorate the Yabuta signing -- and in expectation of more like it in the future -- I give you this, my top three Japanese YouTube videos (counting down):
Any culture so willing to denigrate itself for the sake of entertainment is fine by me.
(But as a friend of mine has been fond of saying, "What was in those bombs???")
POSTSCRIPT: From another part of the baseball world, our brethen-in-suffering, the Pirates, have hired a good one to fill the GM role. Check out this quote:
"We are going to utilize several objective measures of player performance to evaluate and develop players. We'll rely on the more traditional objective evaluations: OPS (on base percentage plus slugging percentage), WHIP (walks and hits per inning pitched), Runs Created, ERC (Component ERA), GB/FB (groundball to flyball ratio), K/9 (strikeouts per nine innings), K/BB (strikeouts to walks ratio), walk percentage, etc., but we'll also look to rely on some of the more recent variations: VORP (value over replacement player), Relative Performance, EqA (equivalent average), EqOBP (equivalent on-base percentage), EqSLG (equivalent slugging percentage), BIP% (balls put into play percentage), wOBA (weighted on base average), Range Factor, PMR (probabilistic model of range) and Zone Rating."Of course, knowing the difference between VORP and WARP doesn't guarantee success, but it's good to know the Pirates put some brains in their front office.-- Neal Huntington