Commonly refered as the “Yankees of Japan”, the Yomiuri Giants have big pockets and the historical success like their New York counterparts.
Yomiuri missed the playoffs last year, finishing 4th in the Central League with a 68-72-3 record.
It has been a frustrating couple of years for manager Tatsunori Hara and the Giants, being swept twice by the Hawks in the Japan Series in 2019 and 2020 and being swept by the Swallows in 2021.
The Giants have an aging core in SS Hayato Sakamoto, RF Yoshihiro Maru and SP Tomoyuki Sugano. All of them are over 33 years old and have been steadily declining.
It’s up to managment to find upgrades across the board to squeeze one more championship run out of this group, and they did not hold back this offseason.
1B Nobuhiro Matsuda, OF Hisayoshi Chono, P Tyler Beede, P Yohander Mendez, P Yoan Lopez, OF Lewis Brinson
SP C.C Mercedes, 1B Zelous Wheeler, OF Gregory Polanco, RP Thyago Viera, P Matt Andriese
CF Lewis Brinson: B-
Lewis Brinson is the ultimate enigma when it comes to predicting a foreigner’s success in NPB.
The NPB’s competition level is firmly established below MLB level and above AAA, many players who couldn’t quite hack it in the majors head over to Japan for an opportunity to prove themselves at the 2nd highest level of baseball and earn at least an MLB minimum salary.
Guys like Maikel Franco, Marwin Gonzalez and Aristides Aquino joined NPB teams this offseason, but Brinson is without a doubt the biggest unknown that i will cover this year.
Brinson has a career 0.198AVG and a 55WRC+ in the majors.
Since 2018 he has been the 2nd least valuable player in MLB according to fWAR, trailing only former Orioles 1B Chris Davis.
In AAA though, Brinson has a .915 OPS over 7 seasons with 5 different organizations.
He also still has the raw tools that made him a top prospect, Brinson’s speed has ranked in the 90th percentile every year he was in the majors, and his max exit velocity‘s are very impressive as well.
None of that has mattered though because Brinson either strikes out too much (28.4K%), doesn’t walk enough (5.0BB%) and his defense isn’t great for someone so fast (-2 OAA).
Brinson did poorly against every type of pitch in MLB, but breaking balls did the most damage, he never hit over .200 against them in any of his 6 MLB seasons.
And still, despite all of this, the Yomiuri Giants are looking at him to be the everyday CF for the 2023.
The Giants had been rumored to pursue Brinson for weeks before signing him in January, seeing Brinson has a rare chance to grab a potential 5-tool star center fielder.
If Brinson can tap into his power in Japan and hit 20+HR with a respectable average and playing CF everyday, that will be seen as a major success for both parties.
It’s a gamble that NPB teams takes every offseason, betting on fringe MLB talent to figure it out in Japan, but Lewis Brinson is the ultimate risk/reward move and i applaud them for trying.
1B Nobuhiro Matsuda: D-
300 career HR, one of the cornerstones of the Softbank Hawks 21st century dinasty, turns 40 years old in May.
You get the picture.
Matsuda was a great player in the past, a 17-year career with just one team, 7x Japan Series champion, 10x All-Star and 8x Golden Gloves at 3B.
But father time has seemingly gotten to Matsuda, he didn’t hit a single HR in 2022 and had a abysmal .204/.255/.245 slashline over 107 PA.
He could of retired in Fukuoka but chose not to, instead signing a 1-year deal with the Yomiuri Giants for 2023.
It’s hard to see Matsuda have on-field impact in Tokyo, at best he should be used as a veteran pinch hitter (CL has no DH) and i’m not sure if he even makes it out of camp with a roster spot.
OF Hisayoshi Chono: D
Why have just one washed veteran hitter when you can have two?
Hisayoshi Chono is a 38-year old outfielder who has spent the past four seasons playing sparingly for the Hiroshima Carp.
It’s a reunion for Chono as he was with the Yomiuri Giants for 8 years from 2010-2018, hitting double digit HR every single year while he was in Tokyo.
But when 2x CL MVP Yoshihiro Maru left the Carp to join the Giants in 2019, Chono was left unprotected by Yomiuri and the Carp selected him as compensation for losing Maru.
It has been a rough go for Chono for the last two years, posting an OPS under .600 and his defense is limited to the corner outfield role.
He will likely battle with Matsuda for a pinch hitting role in Spring Training, a battle for the
LHP Yohander Mendez: D+
The only player named Yohander to ever make the majors(bet you didn’t know that), Yohander Mendez is a venezuelan southpaw who has spent most of his career in the Texas Rangers organization.
Mendez had a 6.23ERA in 47.2IP from 2016-2019 with the Rangers with uninspiring peripherals, 6.2K/9 and 4.7BB/9, there isn’t much to like looking at his time in the majors.
But Mendez hasn’t played in affiliated ball in America since the 2019 season, instead playing in the Venezuelan Winter League with Navegantes de Magallanes and in the Mexican League with Monterrey.
Interestingly enough, Mendez was actually signed to play in the US in 2022 with the Milwaukee Milkmen, the same team his new teammate Adam Walker II played for before joining the Yomiuri Giants, but Monterrey purchased his contract before the season.
In all foreign campaigns, Mendez pitched to a 3.45ERA in 185.1IP, and his AAA and AA numbers are not far off, he walks too many guys for not being a strikeout artist but his numbers aren’t half bad in the upper minors.
His pitch arsenal is a bit dull in my opinion, Mendez throws an unspectacular low 90’s fastball, changeup and slider.
His peripherals on Baseball Savant are also unremarkable, ranking in the bottom 20% percentile in fastball spin rate.
This is a depth move by the Giants.
I rate Mendez as the least impactful foreign signing they made this offseason, he will fill in the roster as both a starter and reliever.
RHP Yoan Lopez: B+
The Yomiuri Giants purchased Lopez’s contract from the New York Mets for $600k, handing him a $1.1M deal with $400k in incentives per Francys Romero on Twitter.
That is a potential $2M+ commitment for Yoan Lopez, who will be used out of bullpen along reigning ROTY closer Taisei Ohta.
What made the Giants high on Lopez is his stuff, as his fastball sits 95-97mph and a slider that has elite break, especially vertically.
The problem for Yoan on the MLB was the long ball.
A career 4.39ERA over 112.2IPin the majors is respectable, but Lopez gives up 1.76HR/9 and 18.8% of flyballs hit went over the fence (would be the worst in MLB last year).
The Giants are banking on it being less of an issue due to the NPB not being power-oriented but Lopez still has to allow less hard contact in general.
Overall though, the Giants bring in a talented arm to a bullpen that lacked juice, i think Lopez will do mostly fine in Tokyo.
SP Tyler Beede: B+
Being drafted twice in the first round of the MLB Draft, Tyler Beede has always been seen as a talented pitcher who didn’t put it all together at the MLB level.
Beede has spent almost all of his pro career with the San Francisco Giants, so he should feel at home in Tokyo with the team that was inspired by the then New York Giants in the 1930’s.
As a prospect, Beede was once the #1 prospect in the Giants organization, lauded by his 95+mph fastball and a “fading changeup”, Beede was on track to be a mid-rotation starter in the bigs.
Since he’s on this list, you know it didn’t quite work out.
Yomiuri’s rotation is lacking depth after Tomoyuki Sugano and Shosei Togo, there isn’t a single pitcher returning for 2023 who threw 100+IP other than Sugano and Togo.
Beede will fill in a backend spot in the rotation replacing C.C Mercedes, i have my doubts if he will be an upgrade but the upside is there.
Offseason Grade: C+
The Giants really tried to shake things up this offseason.
Bringing in two accomplished vets along with 4 new foreigners was a bold move, and the additions of Beede and Brinson give the team a higher ceiling.
For that to happen they had to let go of some guys, and letting C.C Mercedes and Gregory Polanco (both later signed with the Marines) walk was a headscratching move.
Polanco had a solid season for the Giants, as he hit the most homers out of any foreigner in 2022 with 24HR, but the Giants have the excuse of Polanco being strictly a corner OF and with Yoshihiro Maru lacking range at CF, a move to the corner was inevitable.
The Giants basically had to choose between Polanco or Adam Walker II and they chose Walker.
They made the correct choice in my opinion as Walker had a 133WRC+ with 23HR but it still hurts to give up on a guy that proved his worth in Tokyo in Polanco.
The real loss in the Giants offseason was letting C.C Mercedes go.
It came as a bit of a shock since Mercedes had been with the Tokyo based ballclub for the past 6 years after signing as a 22-year old after having not pitched above single-A.
One of the most consistent pitchers in NPB, Mercedes has a career 3.14ERA over 83 starts with the Giants and i see him as the best foreign starter currently in NPB.
To give up on a reliable arm who has proven to be a solid mid-rotation pitcher when you have almost no depth behind your top 2 guys is asnine.
I liked what the Giants brought in in Beede and Brinson as they have high ceilings, and bringing in Lopez was a very necessary move for the bullpen.
If they had kept C.C Mercedes i’d probably give them an A-, but in the end i am lukewarm about the Tokyo Kyojin offseason.
Up Next: Orix Buffaloes