Archive for September 2013

What Do NPB Baseball Players Get Paid? 2013 Update

September 27, 2013

Roughly ten months ago I wrote a piece discussing what players get paid in Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB).  yakyubaka.com provides the base salaries for every player in NPB for the last few seasons.  Here is an update regarding NPB salaries during the 2013 season.

By my count, 88 players in NPB this season had base salaries (excluding signing bonuses and incentives) of 100 million or more yen (100 million yen at present exchange rates amounts to roughly $1.01 million).  This is down from at least 92 such players in 2012 and the yen is weaker than it was a year ago, meaning times aren’t great for Japanese players. Also by my count, no more than 20 players made as much as $2.5 million playing in NPB this year.

The teams with the most 100 million yen players are the Yomiuri Giants (11), the Softbank Hawks (11), the Orix Buffaloes (10) and the Hanshin Tigers (9).  The only surprise is here is the Buffaloes.   The teams with the fewest 100 million players are the Hiroshima Carp (4), the Rakuten Golden Eagles (5) and the Seibu Lions (5), all small-revenue teams.

The list of the eleven or twelve best paid NPB players follows.  [Note that the numbers are not entirely accurate, because signing and performances bonuses, which are often exceptionally large for foreign players, have not been fully taken into account.]

1.  Shinnosuke Abe, Yomiuri Giants: 570 million yen ($5.76 million).  A veteran NPB superstar who was NPB’s top all-around hitter in 2012 by a wide margin.

2.  Toshiya Sugiuchi, Yomiuri Giants: 500 million yen ($5.05 million).  Sugiuchi signed a four-year two billion yen deal with Yomiuri before the 2012 season.  Some of that money is probably a signing bonus, because his base salary was listed at 350 million yen last year, compared to 500 million yen this year.

3. Masahiro Tanaka, Rakuten Golden Eagles:  400 million yen ($4.04 million).  Currently the best pitcher in Japan by a wide margin, he’s currently 22-0 with a 1.22 ERA this season.  Rakuten is a small revenue team and they will make a bundle if they do indeed post Tanaka to major league teams this off-season as everyone seems to expect.  If not, Tanaka signed a three-year 1.2 billion yen deal before this season, so the Golden Eagles would pay him 400 million yen in 2014 in spite of his record-setting 2013 campaign.

3.  Tetsuya Utsumi, Yomiuri Giants: 400 million yen ($4.04 million).  A veteran ace for the big-money Giants, Utsumi signed a four-year, 1.6 billion yen deal with the Giants last off-season, rather than trying his luck in MLB.

5.  Hitoki Iwase, Chunichi Dragons: 370 million yen ($3.74 million).  The Mariano Rivera of today’s NPB, Iwase took an 80 million yen (more than $800,000) pay-cut this year, after posting a 2.29 ERA (his highest since 2008) and recording only 33 saves (his fewest since 2004) in 2012.  So far this year, Iwase has a 1.86 ERA and 36 saves with about five regular season games remaining for the Dragons, close to his final numbers in 2011, so his salary should shoot back to the 425-to-450 million yen range in 2014.

6.  Alex Ramirez, Yokohama DeNA Bay Stars: 350 million yen ($3.54 million).  Ramirez is no longer considered a foreign player after 13 seasons in NPB.  However, his NPB career appears to be over just shy of his 39th birthday.  He batted .301 with 380 career home runs and 1,271 career RBIs in NPB.

7.  Kazahiro Wada, Chunichi Dragons: 330 million yen ($3.34 million).  Another veteran NPB star, Wada made the same salary in 2012 when he only the tenth best paid player in NPB.

8.  Takeya Nakamura, Seibu Lions: 300 million yen ($3.03 million).  NPB’s top Japanese home run hitter, Nakamura missed most of 2013 to injuries.  He would normally take a big pay cut for his lost season, but it looks like he’ll be an NPB-only free agent this off-season, meaning that one of NPB’s wealthier teams could sign him for around what he made this year.

9.  Kazuki Yoshimi, Chunichi Dragons: 290 million yen ($2.93 million).  The Dragons’ ace blew out his arm this year, so he’s likely to take a steep pay-cut in 2014.

9.  Tadashi Settsu, Softbank Hawks: 290 million yen ($2.93 million).  With only four years of NPB service going into the 2013 season, he’s relatively inexperienced to be paid this well by an NPB team.  However, the Hawks are relatively affluent.

11.  Andruw Jones, Rakuten Golden Eagles: 250 million to 300 million yen.  Jones signed a one-year deal with the Golden Eagles last off-season for a reported $3.5 million, including signing and performance bonuses, which he has probably earned after a strong season in Japan.

Honorable MentionDae Ho Lee, Orix Buffaloes: 250 million yen ($2.53 million).  Lee signed a two-year, 760 million yent deal, including signing bonus and performance bonuses (which he has probably earned given the two seasons he’s had) with Orix before the 2012 season, which comes out to 380 million yen a year or $3.84 million per year.  Needless to say, Lee is hoping to re-sign with Orix on similar terms this coming off-season.

As I noted last year, most of the highest paid NPB players are aging veteran superstars with ten or more full seasons of NPB service.  This harkens back to the days before MLB free agency when all the players played under one-year contracts and the highest paid players were veteran superstars like Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle and Ted Williams.  In NPB, free agency rules are much harsher for the players than in MLB, and few players are able to command more than one-year contracts.

As I also noted last year, NPB has an unwritten rule that 500 million yen is the highest salary any player can receive, and for an unwritten rule, it’s pretty well enforced.  Also according to yakyubaka.com, prior to Shinnosuke Abe and Toshiya Sugiuchi this year, only eight NPB players have ever received salaries of 500 million yen or more in a season: Ichiro Suzuki, Kazahiro Sasaki, Hideki Matsui, Norihiro Nakamura, Kenji Johjima, Nobuhiko Matsunaka, Tomoaki Kanemoto and Yu Darvish.

That’s a pretty terrific list of players.  Only Sasaki (650) and Matsui (610) have earned 600 million or more yen in a season.  However, more 500 million and perhaps even 600 million yen salaries are likely in the relatively near future as the wealthiest NPB teams, the Yomiuri Giants and Hanshin Tigers, give out bigger contracts to prevent their best players from fleeing into the waiting arms of MLB.

Because there is this de facto cap on salaries in NPB, the very best players want to play in MLB, not necessarily for the immediate financial gains, but rather because if they can establish themselves as stars in the U.S. (like Ichiro, Hideki Matsui and Hiroki Kuroda), they can make far more money on their second or third MLB contract than they could ever make in Japan.  The problem for most of them is that they are already past age 30 when they cross the ocean.  [Needless to say, some of them also want to test their skills against the world’s best, and most don’t miss NPB’s more onerous training regimens.]

Again as I noted last year, foreign players are not as well paid in NPB as you might expect.  Given that NPB teams may only carry four foreign players on their active roster at any given time, which means that foreign players are generally better than average NPB players, one would think the best gaijin players would be among NPB’s highest paid players.  Generally, they are not.

Since foreign players rarely have long (eight or ten year) NPB careers, they generally aren’t paid as well as the veteran Japanese stars who lead the pack in compensation.  Also, foreign players often don’t have a lot of leverage because they aren’t good enough to be starters in MLB and couldn’t earn NPB salaries no matter how well they play professionally in Taiwan or Korea.

After Dae Ho Lee and Andruw Jones (as noted above, Alex Ramirez is no longer considered a “foreign player” under NPB team-limit rules because he has more than ten years of NPB service), the highest paid foreign players  were the Softbank Hawks’ Vicente Padilla (261 million to 264 million yen, but reported as $3.25 million in U.S. press), the Hanshin Tigers’ Matt Murton (the man who broke Ichiro’s NPB single-season hits record in his first season in Japan is reportedly making 246 million yen (about $2.5 million) in what is now his fourth NPB season) and the Yomiuri Giants’ D.J. Houlton (somewhere between 220 million and 270 million, probably depending on whether signing and performance bonuses are counted — Houlton has won 62 games in six seasons as an NPB starter, which is pretty good given that NPB starters typically get only 25 to 28 starts per season).  Padilla almost certainly won’t return to Japan in 2014 since he wasn’t successful there this year.

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Robinson Cano Wants $305 Million

September 26, 2013

It was reported today that Robinson Cano is seeking a new contract from the Yankees for a total of $305 million over ten years.  Needless to say, this is Cano’s starting position and is likely to come down in the future.  Even so, the amount is eye-popping.

It will be interesting to see how this plays out, to say the least.  Under new management, the Yankees seem much less willing to hand out the kind of deals they previous gave to ARod and CC Sabathia, the first of which has blown up in the Yankees’ face and the second of which appears on the verge of doing so.

On the other hand, Cano is currently the Bombers’ only remaining superstar actually performing like one, at least once Mariano Rivera retires at the end of this season.  It also seems likely that Cano will go to whichever team makes him the biggest offer.  On the other, other hand, Cano turns 31 in late October, meaning he isn’t reasonably likely to have more than three future seasons comparable to the last five, if that.

Despite failing the make the play-offs this year, the pinstripes came close and still made money hand over fist.  They drew more than 40,000 fans a game yet again and continue to enjoy the nation’s largest TV market.  The Yankees certainly have the money to pay Cano more than any other team in baseball, and they certainly have the incentive to do so given the revenues that come to them from fielding a contending team, no matter who the current management group contains.

George Steinbrenner didn’t overpay superstars for more than 30 years because he was a generous man.  In fact, his family business, American Ship Building, is well known in labor circles for introducing in the 1960’s the employer lock-out as a tactic in response to union demands, and Steinbrenner eventually moved the company’s largest shipyards from Lorain, Ohio to Tampa, Florida in 1983 in order to reduce labor costs.

No, Steinbrenner paid out vast sums to top free agents only because it made the Yankees more valuable and more profitable in the long run.  It didn’t always work for Steinbrenner — in the 1980’s there was a fairly long period when the Yankees seemed to be a treadmill where paying for top free agents only brought them 85 to 90 wins a year, just enough to just miss the play-offs for a number of years running.

Steinbrenner didn’t cut down on spending, however.  Instead, the Yankees were able to develop some home-grown stars like Rivera, Derek Jeter, Bernie Williams, Jorge Posada and Andy Pettitte, who Steinbrenner surrounded with expensive free agents, and the Yankees won and won in the late 1990’s.

The Yankees haven’t been able to develop anywhere near the same kind of talent since the turn of the millennium, but their extreme spending on top free agents has made them a play-off team much more often than not, even if they haven’t won as many World Series.

The question, I guess, is whether Cano can get the Yankees to bid against themselves as they did when King George was on the throne.  Scott Boras was the master at getting teams to overpay, and Cano has dumped him for Jay-Z’s unproven new agency.

My feeling is that the best any of the other 29 teams will do is about eight years and $200M to $220M, given Cano’s age and the spectacular implosion not only of ARod’s contract, but also the $240 million, ten-year deal handed out by the Angels to Albert Pujols.  As such, a Yankees’ offer of eight years and $230 million would likely be the best Cano would receive.

A Disappointing September

September 25, 2013

Giants’ fans have definitely gotten spoiled by the last three seasons.  With the team completely out of it, and .500 record no longer even possible, it’s been a disappointing end to the 2013 season.

I’m also disappointed the Giants haven’t given more playing time to their youngsters and unproven players.  Yusmeiro Petit has gotten an opportunity to show that he could be valuable to the team in 2014.  However, Petit’s opportunity came about mainly because it had been painfully clear that Barry Zito has nothing left.

Similarly, Tony Abreu has gotten considerable playing time this September, even hitting a home run in last night’s game against the Dodgers.  However, Abreu’s opportunity is the result of Marco Scutaro having played in pain most of the season and now having surgery on the mallet finger he suffered back in July.

The Giants have managed to get back-up catcher Hector Sanchez 54 of his 134 major league plate appearances this year in September, but again his increased playing time is at least in part a result of the fact that Buster Posey is slumping badly most likely because of all the wear and tear he’s faced at catcher this season.  I note that even with the time off this month, Buster still ranks seventh in all of MLB in innings played at catcher this season.

In fairness to the Giants, their September call-ups are not a particularly impressive bunch.  Still, I would have liked to see slugging AAA catcher Johnny Monell get more than six plate appearances and three innings behind the plate so far this September.  Similarly, while I don’t see either of them developing into anything more than a major league back-up, I would have liked to see Juan Perez and Francisco Peguero get more playing time in left field this month.

The same also for shortstop prospect Ehire AdrianzeAccording to the SF Chronicle today, Adrianze will be out options next year, so the Giants need to give him more playing time in the few games left this season.

The Giants have given a little more work to their young pitchers, but not a whole lot more.  Heath Hembree has pitched six shutout innings in six appearances in September, while Jake Dunning has allowed one earned run over 3.2 September innings in six appearances.  Meanwhile, Michael Kickham has pitched well out of the bullpen this month (one earned run in 4.2 innings) after getting his brains beaten out as a starter earlier in the season.

The Giants’ resistance to giving their youngsters more exposure is, I suspect, largely the result of the fact that the Giants are still playing to sell-out crowds at home every night.  I suspect the team feels an obligation to pack its line-up with stars simply to keep the fans attending the games happy.

While it’s hard to root for the team to lose even when the games don’t matter, I’m hoping the Giants lose enough of their five remaining games to receive a top ten draft pick next June.  Aside from the higher draft pick, finishing with one of MLB’s worst ten records means the Giants can sign top free agents this off-season without losing their first round pick.

In a final note of disappointment, Dominican prospect Nathanael Javier, to whom the Giants gave a $500,000 signing bonus in July 2012, has tested positive for steroids and will be suspended the first 50 games of the 2014 season.  At age 17 this year, Javier batted only .229/.276/.326 in 59 Dominican Summer League games.  However, he finished the season hot, batting .325/.364/.475 in his final ten games.

Javier’s suspension is a particularly big blow because it’s almost certain to cost him almost all of his 2014 season. He was likely to return to the Dominican Summer League for another season, and the league plays only a 70 game schedule. In other words, the positive test will cost him nearly a year of his development as a professional player.

Dan Otero Finds His Niche

September 22, 2013

Former San Francisco Giant Dan Otero has very quietly established himself as a terrific relief pitcher for the play-off bound Oakland A’s.  After tonight’s game, he has a 1.43 ERA in 31 appearances and 37.2 innings pitched this season.  Things couldn’t be much better in Otero’s life than they are now, as he also celebrated the birth of his first child this past week.

As a Giants fan, I’ve been following Otero’s career since at least 2009 when he had a break-out season at AA Connecticut (1.15 ERA in 39 relief appearances and 39 innings pitched).  He was a 21st round draft pick in 2007, probably because he was already 22 years old, which was likely related to the fact that he started his college career at Duke but later transferred to the University of South Florida.

At any rate, he shot through the Giants’ farm system because he was an extreme strike thrower who also managed to strike hitters out.  However, he got hurt, either in late 2009 or early 2010, which cost him roughly a year, and when he had fully recovered, he was no longer young.

He pitched well for the Gints in 2012 Spring Training and made the team to start the season.  However, in his seventh appearance, he allowed six runs, all earned, to the Reds and was promptly sent down, even though he’d  pitched fairly well over his previous six appearances.  He got a September 2012 call-up and again pitched fairly well in five appearances.

However, the Giants waived Otero in March of this year.  The Yankees claimed him, then waived him the very next day, allowing the A’s to claim him.  Otero started the season with the AAA Sacramento River Cats, posting a 0.99 ERA in 23 relief appearances in which he converted 15 saves.

In other words, his pitching in Oakland since the A’s promoted him in mid-June isn’t exactly a fluke.  Otero has been a great relief pitcher this year, as he has been at times in the minor leagues in the past.

In recent years, there has been quite a flow of talent back and forth across the San Francisco Bay.  If a player washes out on one side of the Bay, there’s at least a chance he’ll excel on the other side.

Santiago Casilla was a mediocre-at-best reliever for the A’s for three seasons from 2007 through 2009.  He had good stuff, but not enough command, and he gave up too many dingers even though the Oakland Coliseum is not a great home run park.  The Giants signed him as a free agent after he was non-tendered by the A’s before the 2010 season, and he’s been a great set-up man in San Francisco for the past four seasons even if he does do it in the most stressful way possible.

Aside from Otero, the A’s got several useful years out of Rajai Davis after the Giants waived him in 2008, and A’s also got some valuable work out of Travis Blackley after the Giants released him last year.

It could be nothing more than random chance, given how much border-line major league players bounce around during their professional careers.  However, I suspect that the A’s and Giants are both keenly aware of the players on the other’s roster simply because it’s so convenient (a short drive or BART ride) to scout the other team’s players.

Another factor that may play into it is that the A’s and Giants have generally had very different organizational strategies.  The A’s are the money ball team, while the Giants have traditionally liked toolsy players (i.e., players with great physical talents).  Otero, with his ability to throw strikes and his great ratios, is certainly the kind of pitcher the A’s value.  Casilla, with his big fastball-slider combination, is certainly the kind of pitcher the Giants value.

Another factor may be the differences between the two leagues.  The NL has had the reputation of being a fastball league compared to the AL, i.e. pitchers throw a higher percentage of fastballs in the Senior Circuit and more off-speed pitches in the AL.  However, I don’t know if that is, in fact, true — this article says AL pitchers throw slightly more fastballs than NL pitchers, although the numbers are so close as to be statistically insignificant.

Another possibility is that the players involved simply got better once they’d had some relatively unsuccessful major league experience with their first clubs. There’s nothing like a little major league playing time to make a player a better major leaguer in the future.

A Japanese Connection

September 19, 2013

The Commissioner of Japan’s NPB, Ryozo Kato, resigned today as a result of continuing fall-out from the use of new baseballs this year in NPB.  The reason for the brew-ha-ha really has nothing to do with new balls creating a mockery of the Japanese game by creating too much offense — NPB introduced new baseballs two years ago, which stymied offense and not surprisingly caused a two-year decline in NPB attendance.  The new, new balls this year simply brought NPB offensive performance back to the level it had been at in 2010 and before.

That being said, a foreigner Wladimir Balentien has now set a new all-time single-season home run record with 58 and counting, and that could have something to do with the new, new balls still being an issue.

However, the main reason NPB’s commissioner resigned is the fact that NPB didn’t tell the players or anyone else that different baseballs were being used until well into the 2013 season.  This non-disclosure put a bee in the bonnet of the NPB Players’ Association, normally a very docile labor organization.

Again, it’s hard to believe the new, new baseballs would have been a big deal if the owners simply told the players before the season that NPB was going back to livelier baseballs, given the extreme dominance of pitching and the resulting decline in the attendance the previous two seasons.  Everyone has a vested interest in expanding professional baseball attendance, and there’s plenty of research out there that fans like more offense rather than less offense.

Also, except for Balentien’s exceptional 2013 season, there hasn’t been anything to suggest that the new, new baseballs are too lively.  With only ten or 12 games left in the NPB season, only two players are hitting over .330 (Yuya Hosegawa at .350 and Balentien at .336) and except for Balentien, no one has hit more than 37 HRs.  Frankly, I think Balentien is simply an exceptionally talented player who has greatly improved his strike zone discipline the last few seasons and is still in the prime of his career (he turned 29 in July).

My guess is that a major league team will sign Balentien this off-season and stick him in left field for at least the next couple of seasons, since a three-year deal for a total of $20 million is more than any Japanese team is likely to offer him, and that amount would be a relatively low-risk deal for an MLB club in light of Yoenis Cespedes‘ four-year $36 million deal two seasons ago.  Balentien won’t hit 50+ HRs in the Show, but if he hits between 25 and 30 home runs a season and maintains a decent on-base percentage, he’d be a relative bargain at $7 million or $8 million a year.

Meanwhile, Seattle Mariners’ owner Hiroshi Yamauchi just died at age 85.  He was the long-time principal officer of Nintendo Corporation, and his purchase of the Mariners in 1992 helped keep the franchise in Seattle.  Yamauchi was a Japanese national who had never attended a baseball game at the time he bought the club and never attended a Mariners’ game after he made the purchase.  MLB’s ownership group was initially reluctant to sell the M’s to a foreigner, but they relented after accusations of racism, and Yamauchi’s ownership opened the door for more top Japanese players to come to play in the U.S., starting with Ichiro Suzuki.

Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Dodgers signed a 19 year old Japanese, right-handed pitching prospect named Takumi Numata.  Numata was not well known even in Japan.  He had been pitching in the Japanese industrial leagues, semi-pro teams owned and operated by Japanese corporations, which act as the NPB’s lower minor leagues since NPB teams have only a single farm club each.

There is controversy about Numata’s signing already, since under rules in effect between the Japanese industrial leagues and NPB, an NPB team cannot draft an industrial league player for three years if a player joins directly out of high school or two years if a player joins later.  Numata graduated high school a year ago, went to college for a year, dropped out and joined an industrial league team, meaning his team had his rights for two full seasons.

There is an unwritten rule between NPB and MLB that MLB won’t poach very young Japanese talent until NPB has had a chance to sign the youngsters first.  However, as an unwritten rule, there isn’t anything legal to stop the Dodgers from keeping Numata and bringing him to the U.S.  However, it is likely that NPB and the Japanese industrial leagues will ban Numata from returning directly to either in the event his career in the U.S. is unsuccessful.

San Francisco Giants Milking Hefty Venezuelans

September 18, 2013

The Giants beat the Mets tonight 8-5, and Yusmeiro Petit won again, his fourth win against zero defeats in six appearances and five starts this season.  The game was tied 4-4 when Petit left after the sixth inning, but the Giants scored a run in the top of the seventh, and the Gigantes got two big outs from 31 year old rookie Jean Machi in the bottom of the frame.

For what it’s worth Petit is listed as 6’1″ and 255 lbs, while Machi is listed as 6’0″ and 260 lbs.  Petit was once a highly promising young pitcher who didn’t develop, while Machi appears to be one of those long-time minor leaguer pitchers with good stuff who finally found his command.  Given their dimensions, I am tempted to describe them as “bovine” in order to play up the “milking” reference in the title of this piece, but this season they have been anything but “sluggish, dull and stolid.”

There are few stories I enjoy more as a baseball fan than those of long-time minor leaguers who suddenly put it together and establish themselves as major league stars, or at least valuable major league players, at an age that is typically a major league player’s dotage.  In recent years the Giants have been found an inordinate number of this kind of player: aside from Petit and Machi, Ryan Vogelsong and Andres Torres a couple of years back.

By definition, this kind of player tends not to have many good years before they get old again, but the Giants sure got a couple of extremely valuable season out of Vogelsong and Torres and might yet get a couple of valuable seasons out of Petit and Machi.  The odds that Petit might be for real are particularly good given that he is still only 28 years old — he only seems older because he had significant major league experience between age 21 through 24 before pitching the last few seasons in the minors.

The realist in me says that Machi’s 2013 is probably a fluke, but he certainly has pitched well this year.  His 2.63 ERA to date this year is no fluke, at least in terms of his other numbers — in 48 innings pitched over 46 appearances, he’s allowed 44 hits, two HRs and 12 walks while striking out 44.  His minor league numbers also suggest he could continue to be an effective major league reliever if he has, indeed, finally developed plus major league command.

The Giants have been particularly good in recent years at getting surprisingly good seasons out of marginal major league pitchers.  Some of that is due to the skills of pitching coach Dave Righetti, and some of it is due to the fact that AT&T Park is a good place for pitchers to develop confidence in their ability to get major league hitters out.

The longer I follow major league baseball, the more convinced I become of the value of self-confidence as a key to major league success.  I’ll have to do some research on this, but I do think that hitters become better home and away when their home park is Coors Field, the Ballpark at Arlington, Wrigley or Fenway, while pitchers get better home and away when their home park is Petco Park, Safeco Field, Dodger or Shea Stadium, simply because their home park performance convinces them of their own abilities.

A New Day in Japan’s NPB

September 15, 2013

Wladimir Balentien set the all-time single season record for home runs in a season in Japan’s NPB by blasting his 56th and 57th HRs of the season for the Yakult Swallows earlier today.  This is a big day not just for Balentien but also for NPB.

As I wrote a couple of weeks ago, NPB has a long history of not letting foreign players break Sadaharu Oh‘s old record of 55 HRs in a season.  The fact that NPB has now allowed a foreign player to set a new record in one of it’s most hallowed categories is fantastic.  Records are made to be broken, and no professional league should ever discourage any player from generating the excitement that comes with a successful record-chase.  The record only has meaning if future players receive a full and fair opportunity to break it.

There has been some talk about the fact that a new livelier baseball in use this year in NPB made Balentien’s record possible.  However, the new baseball merely restored the offensive levels that NPB enjoyed before 2011 when a deader baseball was introduced and offense plummeted to ridiculously low levels.

Moreover, Balentien is leagues ahead of NPB’s other top sluggers this year.  So far, only Tony Blanco (37) and Shinnosuke Abe (31) have topped 30 dingers.  Blanco is a former NPB league leader in HRs, and Abe is an NPB superstar who was far and away Japan’s top hitter in 2012.

Balentien should have become a major league star, and I think he eventually would have, at least for a couple of seasons, if he had not elected to go to Japan at the still young age of 26 in 2011. Any doubts about his talent should be dispelled by this link of him hitting an adam’s-apple-high fastball off top Japanese ace Kenta Maeda for his 54th HR of the season.  He also hit a 495 foot HR for the Reds at the end of the 2009 season. (Thanks to Jerry Crasnick’s article for the links to Balentien’s homers off Maeda and in 2009.)

Balentien will be an 29 next season (he turns 30 on July 2, 2014), so there’s at least a possibility that he could sign a two or three year deal with an MLB team this off-season and return to the U.S.  Another possibility is that Wladimir will jump to the Yomiuri Giants, the Hanshin Tigers or the Softbank Hawks next year, since they are the only NPB teams that can afford to pay him a salary commensurate with the season he’s now wrapping up.