Spring Camp Shuffle, Other News

News out of Okinawa is that 2014 round 4 pick Koki Moriya has joined the parent club for the remainder of their time down south. Also going along is Ryota Arai, who seems to have recovered from his injury late last season. Both put up great numbers in the ni-gun exhibition games, and deserve to be in Okinawa.

Two players went up and three went down. Naomasa Yohkawa (injured left shoulder) will make the trip north to Aki and start rehab soon. Yohkawa hopes to play on the big squad come April, giving the team a much needed power boost. Infielder Naoto Nishida and pitcher Hiroaki Saiuchi will also continue their training up north.

In other news. manager Yutaka Wada took two days’ rest and even went to the hospital. It is believed to be stress-related. He returned to the team today.

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Mauro Gomez and Matt Murton took outdoor batting practice for the first time this spring, with Gomez launching 5 balls over the outfield fence in 43 swings, and Murton clearing the wall twice in 39 pitches. Says Gomez: “I felt good out there, but I want to be able to do even better tomorrow. Murton showed his desire to catch up on the time he’s missed with a tweaked right thigh: “I’m still not able to do all that the team is doing out there, and am working hard to get where I should be.”

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2015 Season Preview, Part 2: Outfield

Today we continue our four-part series about the Tigers and the upcoming 2015 season. After checking in on the infield last time, we look at the outfield and general offense today. The second half of the series will look at starting pitchers and the relief squad. Alright, let’s finish up the fielders and bats!

Left Field

mattmurtonThis job belongs to none other than Matt Murton. The man just signed a new one-year contract worth a reported ¥450M (~US$3.8M). He has also been the team’s most consistent hitter for years, winning the batting title in 2014 with a .338 average. He has decent plate discipline, middling power and minimal speed. His work in the field is adequate but not spectacular. He is occasionally subbed out for either a defensive or base running replacement late in close games, a strategy that I have yet to see pay dividends. On one occasion, in fact, he was replaced by one of the scrawny speedsters and was unavailable when his last turn in the order came up (in a crucial situation, of course).

Center Field

yamatobuntLast year, save for a spell when he was injured, Yamato took hold of this position. It was actually just the first year he was a registered outfielder, though he has spent nearly every active inning on the big team out there. Let’s start with the positive. The man won a Gold Glove for his incredible fielding work. He was consistent all year, but really drew attention to his prowess in the playoffs, making countless diving catches and gunning down a runner to save a run as well. Now unfortunately for Yamato, his bat did not follow his glove in excellence. His BUNT did, as he led the league with 50 sacrifice bunts. More on this figure/strategy later. In the meantime, Yamato finished the year hitting a mediocre .264, which was actually a much leaner .235 until a September surge (28-for-71). According to an interview in the February Monthly Tigers magazine, Yamato recognizes that he needs to wield a more productive stick. He vows to get on base more, steal more bases and drop down more sacrifice bunts. How he’ll have time to do all that is beyond me, but of course I wish him all the best.

Right Field

Things could get a little interesting here. Aging veteran Kosuke Fukudome holds the post for the time being, and while his numbers show little to justify him getting it back automatically in 2015, he provided plenty of clutch moments down the stretch (particularly against the Carp) and has a keen eye. He also has history on his side. The Tigers love their aging stars who once saw more glorious days. Can Fukudome turn back the hands of time one last time and produce for one more year? His fielding is still quite solid for someone of his age, and there is little chance he will be replaced late in games, unless he is feeling fatigued.

The Up-and-Comers

#3 Draft Pick Taiga Egoshi

#3 Draft Pick Taiga Egoshi

The Tigers have plenty of players who are eager to get more playing time in the outfield. Right out of the gates at this year’s spring training, 2014 3rd pick Taiga Egoshi has impressed fans and coaches alike with his combination of power, speed and work ethic. Could he get some playing time in center this early in his time with the team? The jury is still out, and the preseason is still less than half over. Hayata Itoh has been with the team for a few years and shows some promise to be a starter someday. However, he also has poor discipline at the plate and gives the Koshien faithful headaches with his play in the field. Unless he steps things up this spring (and I have heard no such word myself), he does not appear to be a threat this year. Shunsuke was the main replacement for Yamato last year when the latter injured his obliques. He is, in my opinion, a poor man’s Yamato. Decent fielder, decent speed, no power. None. He does everything Yamato does but just not as well. Veteran Keisuke Kanoh may be used primarily as a pinch hitter, though he could fill in for one of the corner outfielders should the need arise. Shintaro Yokota is another name that is getting some buzz at the camps. He fits more of the power hitter mold, though we have yet to really see if this power translates against the NPB’s best pitchers. Finally, guys like Ryosuke Ogata, Kohei Shibata, Ken’ichi Tagami are still trying to find their niche with the team.

Overall Prognosis

My gut feeling tells me the Tigers are going to roll the same three guys out as last year. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but Yamato and Fukudome need to step up their production. Even if they do, though, the outfield lacks a true slugger that can change the outcome of a game with one swing of the bat. Murton looks to be in great shape and I hope to see him hit at least 20 HRs, but this group as a whole does not inspire too much fear in opposing pitchers.

Hitting Skills

Last season the Tigers got shut out a whopping 14 times (including twice in the playoffs). They also ranked second-to-last in team home runs with 94. The team batting average was .264, good for 3rd out of six Central League teams. They stole 55 bases as a team (dead last), and got caught 37 times. Even the team’s sacrifice bunt total (121) ranked third and its success rate (.801) a disappointing last in the CL. Perhaps the lone bright spot is that our hitters showed better discipline than any other, walking 483 times (1st) and striking out 1,009 times (4th). Only the Dragons and Swallows had better walk-to-strikeout ratios.

Still, the huge underlying problem is run production. Putting up that many bagels is unhealthy for any team’s fate, and even more alarming is the whopping 27 times they managed just a single run in a game (playoffs included). Their record in these games: 3-37-1. Where is the power game? Take Mauro Gomez’s 26 out of the picture and there’s only one other Tiger in double digits (Murton’s 14). Where’s the speed game? Take away Hiroki Uemoto’s 20 and you’ve got fewer than CL leader Takayuki Kajitani (DeNA) stole as an individual (39).

For all the talk of the psychological importance of that first run in a game, the Uemoto lead-off hit/walk followed by the Yamato sacrifice bunt grew really predictable and boring, really quick. Why not let him try to steal second more? (Granted, his success rate was a mere 66.7%.) While reading an interesting book by Masayuki Kakefu (Tigers’ legendary slugger) and Suguru Egawa (Giants’ legendary pitcher), I found something interesting. Egawa said that the sacrifice bunt often gave the pitcher a psychological edge. “Whew, they’re giving me a free out here. I think I can get out of this.” Now, not every pitcher will get out of every jam, but is there statistical proof that a runner on second with one out gives you better odds to score than a runner on first with no outs? I say use the strategy strategically, not mechanically! More hit-and-runs, more stolen base attempts, more attempts to hit the long ball! (Legend Kanemoto was quoted today as telling Egoshi, Yohkawa and Yokota to forget trying to hit .300 and instead try to hit 30 HRs. Amen to that!)

The batting order could also use some shuffling, in my amateur opinion. Matt Murton broke Ichiro’s record for hits in a season in 2010 with 214. He didn’t even lead the league in batting average that year, though it was higher (.349) than this year’s .338. The reason he could do it? He was the leadoff hitter! He got a ton more at bats! If you’re not going to let your leadoff hitter steal second, then you have to get your BEST hitter in there! More hits, more times on base, more chances at runs! Are you telling me Murton can’t reach second on a Yamato sacrifice bunt? Or that he won’t score from second on a Toritani single? I am not suggesting Murton bad lead all year, or that it will solve all their hitting problems. Creativity is the key. Get these players’ skill levels up, and let them play exciting baseball! I look forward to seeing a rejuvenated Tigers lineup this season! Without it, the team cannot possibly hope to replicate the magic of 2003 and 2005, let alone 1985.

The Boys Are Back in Town! Well, Almost!

Guess who just got back today?
Those wild-eyed boys that had been away…

MaurogomezstolenpassporthanshintigersThin Lizzy had a smash hit in 1976 with their celebration of reunification. The Hanshin Tigers were hoping for something similar these past two days but first baseman Mauro Gomez experienced a smash of his own.

Scheduled to leave his home country of the Dominican Republic on January 27, his car got broken into and his bag containing his passport got swiped. As a result he cannot enter Japan and he’s waiting for a new passport back home. This obviously puts his timely arrival at spring training in Okinawa at risk. He was hoping to be on time this year after arriving late last year due to the birth of his first daughter and her subsequent illness. Gomez and the team are doing everything they can to get him to Japan as soon as possible.

RandymessengerkansaiairporthanshintigersAnd now for some better news. Ace pitcher Randy Messenger arrived safely at Kansai International Airport yesterday. He’s with his family which includes newborn son (his 4th child) Roland. He said he spent much of his off-season taking care the kids and being a good stay-at-home dad. Looking forward to another great season from the big guy.

MattmurtonhanshintigersOutfielder Matt Murton  also arrived in recent days looking a little slimmer than last year. The batting champion says he worked his core really hard these past few weeks and hopes to lead the team to a championship this year. As always, he says, when he puts in the work and does his best, the numbers should follow. We sure hope they do!

SeunghwanohhanshintigersFinally, closer Seung-hwan Oh flew in from Korea couple days ago as well. He actually looks a little bit bigger than last season, but that is the result of working out hard in Guam the past month or so. Oh hopes to do three things the season. First of all he had his worst performances against the Giants this past year. He doesn’t feel like they were particularly more difficult than other teams, and hopes to be able to stop them dead in their tracks this year. He got some great advice in the off-season from former Giant killer Yutaka Enatsu and really hopes to become the next great stopper. Second, he wants to have better results during interleague play. Last season he got a little bit sick during that time, and racked up a very mediocre 4.15 ERA. This also included half of his 4 losses on the year. Finally, he hopes to reduce the number of blown saves the season. That will help contribute to a pendant and hopefully a championship too!

So now we await the return of Mauro Gomez, and then we can truly say the boys are back in town, ready to produce another smash hit in Kansai and bring the club a championship — one that’s 30 years in the waiting.

More Toritani and Blue Jays News (Unrelated in a way)

toritani3Sanspo is reporting that Toritani has signed a monster contract (for Japan) with the Tigers: a 5-year deal worth ¥2-billion (around US$16.9 million). This means he will be with the organization at least through his 38th birthday, and likely for the remainder of his career. Management, among others, look forward to being able to retire his number at the end of what could be quite the illustrious career. Numbers may not compare favorably (two different leagues and in Ripken’s case, eras) but the shortstop has a chance to mean to the Tigers what Derek Jeter meant to the Yankees and what Cal Ripken meant to the Orioles. Both had long, productive careers with one organization, and were outstanding leaders and fan favourites. Toritani and Ripken are among the first names that come to mind when thinking of iron men. Currently, Toritani has played in 1466 straight games, which is still well short of Ripken’s 2632, but still very impressive. Should Tori play all regular season games the remainder of his contract, he would end his age 38 season at 2186 games. Either way, it is great to have him back with the organization!

On another note, I stumbled across his Facebook page, which I had no idea existed until Tigers Pride posted a French translation to Facebook. Here is an English translation, along with the original statement. Nothing too exciting, but worth a read.

ToritaniFacebook

Happy New Year!
At the end of last season, I decided to test the international free agent market. I thought long and hard about all the possibilities, and yesterday decided to return to the Hanshin Tigers.
I know my decision came kind of late and I caused a lot of fans and others some grief.
This season I will play with all my might and hope to share the joy of winning the pennant and Nippon Series with all the fans. I look forward to your continued support this year.
Right now I am in Okinawa doing voluntary training with Chiba Lotte’s Iguchi, as I have done every year. I’m doing all I can to get in shape for spring training!

Photo courtesy of sanspo.com

Photo courtesy of sanspo.com

In other news, the Toronto Blue Jays have re-signed 2B/SS Munenori Kawasaki to a minor-league contract for 2015. It appears he will be guaranteed $120,000 if he stays in the minors all season, but the split contract also means an increase to $700,000 if he gets called up from the farm team. Kawasaki is a huge fan favorite in Toronto and is also well-liked by his teammates. While he is not quite Takashi Toritani, the Blue Jays could end up with a decent Japanese 2B at a reasonable price after all.

Photo courtesy of sanspo.com

Photo courtesy of sanspo.com

Not only that, but the Jays are also apparently one of three teams showing interest in 41-year old legend Ichiro Suzuki. The Orioles and Marlins are also in the running. Should Ichiro join the Jays, it would be like a dream come true for Kawasaki, who lists Ichiro as his hero. The two played together briefly in Seattle in 2012 before Ichiro moved to the Yankees in a trade. Kawasaki was released at season’s end and joined the Blue Jays at the start of the 2013 season.

Tigers 2015 Fan Club Membership!

IMG_3610Some of you may be aware of the Hanshin Tigers Fan Club. Others might not. Since the information on the team website is only in Japanese, it becomes even harder for English-speaking fans to get a service that is quite reasonable. I’ll break it down for you here:

The cost for a year membership is ¥3,600 (around $30 US) and includes:

IMG_36141) A membership card. On the back is your name and membership number, as well as a little Tigers jersey with the number of your choice on it. (I chose #9 because Matt Murton is my favorite player.) Three straight years of membership earns you “Gold” status, 5 is “Platinum” and 10 is “Diamond.” Not sure what its significance is.

Update: After reading into it, I found out Gold gets you a free towel (different than the one below) plus entry into a draw for 3B SMBC seats to a game. Platinum gets you a Membership “card case” plus entry into a draw for 1B SMBC seats to a game, plus access to special “Platinum and Diamond Members Only” tickets. Diamond gets you a special hand-stitched “Diamond Member” emblem, entry into a draw for lower-deck Green seats, access to special “Platinum and Diamond Members Only” tickets, plus entry into a draw for invitations to special events (open practices, more) accessible only to Gold, Platinum and Diamond members. You also get an optional “Diamond Plus Member” service available for ¥33,600 which includes: a unique Mizuno “bench coat” with your name (up to 10 characters) stitched into the sleeve, a unique Diamond Plus Member card, a Mizuno “Gold Glove Leather” keychain, earlier access to tickets than anyone else, a walk down the red carpet at Fan Appreciation Day, a pair of tickets (1B Alps) to any regular season game, your name on a placard outside Koshien Stadium, and entry into a draw to access the draftees’ club induction conference. WOW.

IMG_36122) A replica yellow jersey OR a tote bag with 2 seat cushions (for the hard seats at Koshien) OR a tote bag (like the ones that high schoolers use) OR a large beach towel with Torakki- (To Lucky) and Torako on it.

SilkscreentowelMurtonFujinamiUemotoToritaniNishiokaNohmiGomez3) If a current member “introduces” you to the club, both you and that person get a silk-screen hand towel that has 7 players on it.

4) Discounts on certain tickets/items, as well as the ability to choose your seats when buying tickets. Without the membership you can only choose your section, then you get your seats chosen for you.

5) Invitations to special fan events throughout the year.

6) A quarterly magazine put out by the club (in Japanese, of course). I would like to be the one to introduce the idea of having the magazine available in English, too. Of course, I would be the translator, in a perfect world!

7) You get a chance to throw out the first pitch at home games or present “player of the month” awards to players.

So that’s what you get for the cost of a decent dinner for two. Not bad, eh? I’m glad I got my membership this year, and hope to make it easier for everyone to get theirs in 2016!

May everyone enjoy the final few days of 2014! Looking forward to another great year of cheering for the Tigers in 2015! Let’s hope they can win their first title in 30 years! GO TIGERS!

Hanshin Tigers SS Toritani – Blue Jays Make Official Offer

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Photo taken from sportsnet.ca

The original article can be seen here 元の記事はこちら

Hanshin Tigers international free agent Takashi Toritani (33) has received an official offer from the Toronto Blue Jays to be their second baseman on the 23rd. Sources revealed that Toritani’s agent, Scott Boras (62) has met and negotiated with the team several days in a row. It also appears the Padres are making attempts to acquire Toritani as well.

Blue Jays' GM Anthopoulos at MLB winter meetings

Blue Jays’ GM Anthopoulos at MLB winter meetings

At last, an official offer has been presented to the man who has dreamed of playing on the big stage for years. Blue Jays’ GM Alex Anthopoulos made public the Jays’ high estimation of Toritani as a potential second baseman in a local radio talk show interview on the 17th. Major league sources have said that “the Blue Jays have put an official contract offer on the table and negotiated with his agent several days in a row.”

However, the Jays’ top priority is said to be strengthening their mid-relievers, and that Toritani is the final piece of the puzzle, and that the budget is limited. Other sources have said that Toritani is looking at this contract offer and noticing it is not as favorable as the ¥300 million yen that the Hanshin Tigers have offered him.

On the other hand, the Padres are seeking to make Toritani their shortstop. They’ve got Amarista and Barmes as candidates to be starting shortstops but would like to strengthen their depth at the position by adding Toritani. The Jays see him as a starting second baseman. The Padres are thinking of using him at his original position, shortstop. And then there are the Hanshin Tigers, who are set to offer him a much more favorable contract than the two major league teams. The time for Toritani to make his decision is drawing nearer.

Presently, the Hanshin Tigers are waiting to hear back from Toritani. Since declaring his intent to test the waters overseas, he has met with the club once in November and twice in December. The Tigers have indicated they want to sign him to a huge contract. They are hoping against hope that he will bring good news to them in the new year, as they see him as an instrumental part of their title run.

Offseason Report 7 – Oh Signs his 2015 Contract

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Closer Seung-hwan Oh joined the Tigers before the 2014 season with an agreement to play two years, but the contract for that second year was not signed until yesterday. Now that he is officially back, the Tigers will start next year with the exact same four foreigners (the limit for active rosters in Nippon Professional Baseball) as they had last season.

Said the Korean stopper: “It was great to play for an excellent organization like the Tigers this year. But I regret not being able to win it all at the end. Next year I’m going to do my best to be one of the team’s core players, and contribute to us winning it all.”

Of course we wish you all the best in 2015, Mr. Oh! Thanks for a great 2014! Let’s get the title in 2015!

In other news, the team is still trying really hard to sign free agent ace pitcher Chihiro Kaneko. The (former?) Orix Buffalo was the recipient of the Eiji Sawamura Award in 2014 and has expressed interest in being posted (i.e. going to the major leagues) in the near future. The Tigers are among 5 teams (none of these are the Giants) reportedly interested in the 31-year old.

Christmas + Tigers + History = Randy Bass Goodness

randybasssantahanshintigersTigers’ legend Randy Bass (60) has come to the Osaka area to help the Hanshin Department Store chain drum up some business. Today he was at Dotonbori on a tour boat in a Santa costume, shouting “Merry Christmas” to all who could hear and see him. He seemed to really enjoy his time, even posing in front of the (re)new(ed) Glico runner billboard. Check out pictures here.

Offseason Report 5 – Randy Messenger Signs On for Two More Years

Becoming a Legend

Tigers’ Messenger Looks to Catch the Great Bacque and Lead the Team to the Top

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Messenger signs a 2-year contract worth 500 million yen (US$4.2 M) at a Knoxville hotel restaurant on December 14. Photo taken from Sanspo.com

The original article, written by Kenji Miki, can be found here 元の記事は三木建次氏によって書かれた

Gonna be a legend! Pitcher Randy Messenger (33) signed a 2-year contract (worth 500 million yen) with the Tigers through the end of 2016 at a hotel at McGee Tyson Airport (Knoxville, Tennessee) on the 14th. This season, his fifth in Japan, saw him record 13 wins and his first “most wins” title, but he wants more in 2015. Should he reach double figures in wins for the fifth straight year and win his second straight “most wins” title, he would become the “Greatest Foreign Pitcher of All Time.”

As his right hand scrawled his signature across the page, the curtain opens on Messenger’s legend. Negotiations took place in a hotel in Tennessee. His facial expression brimmed with the same confidence as he shows when he stands tall on the mound.

“I hope to stand strong on the rotation again and whenever I’m starting, I want to do everything I can to give my team a chance to win.”

With 13 wins in his fifth season in Japan, the man already won his first “most wins” title and his second straight “most strikeouts” title (with 226) but he is setting the bar even higher for next year. The righty will be 34 years old in August, but he could win the title of “Legendary Foreigner” in the hearts of fans.

He’s got double-digit win totals every year since 2011, and if he can do it again in 2015 he will become the third foreigner (after the Tigers’ Gene Bacque and the Marines’ Katsuo So) since the 2-league era started to do so. Of course for Messenger, this is just a short stop on the road to even greater things. Should he get through the summer in good shape, he could also become just the third foreign pitcher (after Kip Lee Gross of the Nippon Ham Fighters in 1995-96 and Seth Greisinger of the Yakult Swallows in 2007 and Yomiuri Giants in 2008) to nab the “most wins” title in back-to-back seasons. No pitcher has accomplished both of these. Doing so would make him the “Greatest Foreign Pitcher of All Time.”

Tigers legend Gene Bacque is the team's last foreign pitcher to record double digits in wins 5 in consecutive seasons (1964-1968). Photo taken from Sanspo.com

Tigers legend Gene Bacque is the team’s last foreign pitcher to record double digits in wins 5 in consecutive seasons (1964-1968). Photo taken from Sanspo.com

But it’s not just about setting records. Naturally, the team is also relying heavily on the righty. The team’s attempts to sign free agents this offseason have all gone sour, leaving the team with just four of their six rotation spots (Mess, Nohmi, Fujinami and Iwata) solidified. The lineup is the same as it was this past season. Messenger threw the most innings of any pitcher in either league, with 208 ⅓. Naturally the team is counting on the man who threw on 4 days’ rest and got the team a bunch of wins. “We expect, and even need, greater numbers (than this year’s) from him next season,” said pitching coach Nakanishi.

As though he could still hear the crowd at Koshien cheering all the way from his home country, Messenger said, “I’m so happy to be able to pitch before Hanshin Tigers fans next season. They stay loud all the way through the game, which pushes me to play harder for them.” He’s planning to train for next year near his home in Kentucky, but he will not throw until next year. More important than practicing his throwing is building the stamina to be able to throw well the entire season. That and taking care of his shoulder are top priority.

“What we were able to do in the playoffs this year is a huge confidence builder for next season.”

Next season is the team’s 80-year anniversary. Foreign import righty #54 looks to lead the team to its first league title in 10 years, first championship in 30, and becoming a true legend.

Offseason Report 4 – MLB Blue Jays Rumoured to be Interested in Toritani

Original article can be seen here 元の記事はこちら

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Takashi Toritani played solidly at 2B during the 2013 WBC. Photo taken from Sponichi.

I’ll be the first to admit it. I was one of the more cynical Hanshin Tigers fans when I heard that shortstop Takashi Toritani had his heart set on playing in the major leagues starting in 2015. I mean, who would want a soon-to-be 34 year old who has no experience living, let alone playing, in America? Especially one with little power and little speed? Add on to that a negotiating condition: must be used as a starting member. So today’s Sponichi front cover caught me off guard:

The Toronto Blue Jays are considering offering Toritani a contract to be their starting second baseman? Of course with Jose Reyes firmly (if brittlely) positioned at shortstop, there was no way they could talk about him playing his regular position. However, Toritani showed his versatility in the 2013 World Baseball Classic, playing three infield positions well, including second base.

Since the Jays used 7 different players at second last season (the most regular being now-free agent Munenori Kawasaki, who played 49 games), they are clearly looking for an upgrade. Sponichi mentions that team Pacific Rim scout (and former LA Dodgers GM) Dan Evans watched Toritani play in 10 or so games this season, and liked what he saw. Not only is his defence solid, but he has gotten on base better than 40% of the time for two straight seasons. Obviously, Toritani’s agent, Scott Boras, also has great things to say about his client: “He is so good at stopping anything hit his way, he could play any infield position.”

While other teams have viewed Toritani as a potential utility infielder (i.e. filling in the gaps as injuries and slumps happen), the Jays are the only team so far that has given serious thought to making him a regular fixture in their lineup. Having already signed free agent catcher Russell Martin, and trading for all-star 3B Josh Donaldson and outfielder Michael Saunders, the Blue Jays are looking to be one of the most stacked lineups in the American League next year.

For his part, Toritani has made his stance clear: a contract with a major league club takes precedence over all, even denying the Tigers a chance to negotiate with him: “It’s all in my agents hands now.”

Should the Blue Jays make an offer, Toritani’s days of dreaming about the major leagues could be over. Expect to hear more concrete news about the (former?) Tigers’ captain soon.