The Chunichi Dragons have surpisingly been one of the most active teams in NPB this winter.
With former club legend and current manager Kazuyoshi Tatsunami overseeing a couple of aggressive moves, signing Aristides Aquino from the Reds and swinging a pair of trades.
This is the debut of a new series of articles in which i will rank every addition NPB teams made this winter and give them a final grade on how their offseason went.
I will be using r/NPB’s offseason tracker and will grade every addition that is present there, if there are other noteworthy signings that are not listed i will also try to cover them.
RF Aristides Aquino, LF Zoilo Almonte, SS Orlando Calixte, LHP Yoshiki Sunada, RHP Hideaki Wakui.
INF Toshiki Abe, SS Yota Kyoda, C/UTIL Ariel Martinez.
RF Aristides Aquino: A-
The headliner of the Dragons busier than normal off-season, Aquino signed with Chunichi in late November for 1.2M dollars plus 300k in incentives according to Hector Gomez (@hgomez27).
The signing came as a mild shock as Chunichi usually tries to sign cheaper foreigners, whether It’s from their Cuban pipeline or from the Winter/Mexican Leagues, they actually haven’t signed a hitter straight from the majors who had more than 100PA for the Dragons since 2013(!) when they signed infielder Hector Luna.
Aquino profiles as your cliché foreign slugger, a corner outfielder with huge raw power and strikeout issues, as the dominican holds a 33.5% K rate over 5 years in the big leagues, and a below average 84WRC+.
There are questions as to how Aquino will adapt to the breaking ball heavy NPB, as he had mediocre .267 xw0BA and a 43.4% whiff rate on breaking pitches in 2022 for the Reds.
Still, there is a reason they call him “The Big Punisher”, Aquino’s baseball savant page is off the charts, as he ranked at the top of exit velocity, sprint speed and arm strength.
On defense, Aquino graded out well in RF in limited playing time, recording 12 outfield assists, this gives him a nice floor in case he doesn’t hit at the plate, similar to when the Marines signed Leonys Martin back in 2019.
It’s a boom or bust signing, but it’s a gamble the Dragons wisely took, as they needed an impact bat with serious power, since they hit just 62HR in 2022.
LF Zoilo Almonte: B
This is Almonte’s second stint in NPB, both with the Dragons, as Almonte had previously signed with Chunichi back in 2018 and he actually did really well, boasting a NPB career 136WRC+ over 967PAs.
When i was researching for my piece on why foreign hitters are struggling, Almonte stuck out like a sore thumb because he was actually succesful in Japan but barely got playing time and the Dragons let him go to the KBO even though he was one of their better hitters.
Almonte played in Mexico for the Sultanes de Monterrey in 2022, posting a 1.044 OPS with 27HR in just 373PA, finishing top 5 in the league in homers.
It’s a bit of a shame that Almonte probably won’t get much playing time in Chunichi once again, with Dayan Viciedo and Aristides Aquino slotting in as the main foreign bats, Almonte will probably play sparingly on the main roster, and he could see more time on the ni-gun team instead.
SS Orlando Calixte: C-
A teammate of Zoilo Almonte in Monterrey, Calixte and Almonte were signed jointly while manager Kazuyoshi Tatsunami went to the DR personally to find new foreign hitters.
What they got in Calixte is a light hitting, defensive first shortstop, as Calixte has an OPS under .700 while playing in AAA/AA.
Calixte will offer depth to a Dragons infield that has seen a lot of change this offseason, but i doubt he will play much in 2023.
RP Yoshiki Sunada: C
The Dragons acquired Sunada via a trade with the Baystars, in which they sent former Rookie of The Year SS Yota Kyoda to Yokohama in a 1 for 1 trade.
Kyoda was seen as expendable by Tatsunami, as he had just 143PA in 2022 after getting 400+PA the previous five years.
Sunada’s 2022 season was also nothing to write home about, the southpaw pitched just 12.2 innings and had a 5.68ERA.
His career numbers are solid though, with a career 3.68ERA in a tough ballpark to pitch at and a 97FIP- over 300IP is good enough to be in a middle relief role.
Overall this trade isn’t very consequential, the Dragons and Baystars trade some spare parts and it’s mostly a wash from a value standpoint, Kyoda could regain his 2017 magic in Yokohama but it wasn’t happening in Nagoya.
SP Hideaki Wakui: D
I‘ve given my thoughtss about this trade before on a deeper analysis, but i just don’t like this trade from a value standpoint for Chunichi.
Chunichi traded 33-year old INF Toshiki Abe for 36-year old SP Hideaki Wakui, Abe was a quality hitter in a otherwise horrid Dragons lineup, he had the 2nd most PA’s on the team and had 3.4WAR in 2022, splitting time between 2nd and 3rd base.
The move was meant to give top prospect 3B Takeya Ishikawa a more clear path to playing time, but getting Wakui back doesn’t really fit with the Dragons youth movement.
The appeal of Wakui is that he is a veteran starter that can help younger starters like Hiroto Takahashi and Shinnosuke Ogasawara, having pitched 2500+innings in NPB and even winning a Sawamura Award in 2009.
But Wakui is on his last legs, pitching just 56 innings in 2022 to a 3.54ERA, but it’s hard to imagine a starter who has been on a consitent decline and who will be 37 through most of the season to give you quality innings.
The Dragons got rid of one of their only productive hitters for an older and worse player that is at best their 5th starter, it doesn’t kill their off-season completely but it was a step in the wrong direction.
Offseason Grade: C+
The Dragons had a very dynamic offseason, trying to shake up the roster enough and finally break NPB’s longest playoff drought (10 years).
Signing Aquino was definitely the headliner, bringing in a high variance bat with pop is the gamble the Dragons needed to make.
Letting Ariel Martinez leave for nothing was a bit of a strange move, as Martinez has been an above average hitter (123WRC+) over his three year NPB career, and is still just 26, he is now in Hokkaido with the Fighters.
The Dragons still have some obvious holes in the infield and they hope their youngsters can bring some juice to a usually weak lineup.
I think the Dragons have slighty improved but it’s hard to see them crawl out of the Central League cellar.
Up next: Hanshin Tigers