Taking Authority from Kanemoto: Wada to be Named GM?

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Make Senior Advisor Wada the GM! The Man Who Can Loosen Kanemoto’s Grip on Operations

Put the Club Back in the Driver’s Seat

This team needs to start thinking about making Yutaka Wada its General Manager. Hanshin is slated to start the first round of the Climax Series against the Yokohama DeNA BayStars on the 14th at Koshien Stadium, but is also in the midst of rebuilding the team. Masayuki Kakefu has stepped down as farm manager, Jason Rogers and Eric Campbell have returned to America, Yuya Andoh and Keisuke Kanoh (and now Ryota Arai) have retired, and the team has made it clear that they intend on making Waseda Jitsugyo’s phenom Kotaro Kiyomiya its first round draft pick. But despite all this movement, it is unclear as to who, and where, the team leader is.

Making Senior Advisor Wada (who is all-but-certainly being given an official position in the front office this offseason) the general manager would be a solid first step towards putting the club back in control of decisions.The First Stage of the Climax Series is at long last about to start on the 14th. Its stage is the home of the Hanshin Tigers: Koshien Stadium. The opponent: DeNA, who fought hard at season’s end and held off the Yomiuri Giants. The BayStars have renewed manager Alex Ramirez’s contract and have a scary cleanup consisting of Tsutsugoh, Lopez and Miyazaki. If Hanshin can win two against the BayStars, it will advance to face the Hiroshima Carp for a shot at playing in the Nippon Series.

Some intriguing moves have been made as Hanshin heads into this matchup against Ramirez’s BayStars. Following Campbell’s release and return home to America, midseason acquisition Rogers also left Japan on the 3rd. Apparently manager Tomoaki Kanemoto and his coaching staff have determined that the team does not need foreign fielders in the postseason lineup.

A team representative has said, “Mr. Kanemoto did not consider Campbell or Rogers as part of the postseason roster. If he wasn’t going to use them, it was better for their sake to let them know early and let them head home. That’s all. We just followed on-the-field orders.”

The top squad manager has the authority to decide how to use the players that have been given to him. So if he deems a player unfit to take the field, it is hard to make an argument against his decision to take the field without any import hitters in the playoffs.

But, was the decision to cut both Campbell and Rogers before the postseason a good one? One former Tiger commented: “Rogers has home run power. Even if he were not used as a starter, surely having him on the bench as a potential pinch hitter was a valid option. DeNA has a healthy lineup of lefty pitchers: Imanaga, Ishida, Hamaguchi. Don’t you think the opponent would be more hesitant to keep a lefty in against him than Hanshin’s other right-handed pinch hit options (Fumiya Hojoh, Fumihito Haraguchi, Taiga Egoshi)? I simply can’t understand why he would let (Rogers) go before the postseason begins.”

This is just one way of thinking about it, but the contract signed was valid through season’s end, so it was kind of a waste to send him home before the playoffs. Even if he never enters the game, he becomes a wildcard that the other team’s coaches have to think about while strategizing.

The problem is that Kanemoto’s orders pass without questioning, and the import players’ treatment is a reflection of that. Normally, releasing players is a decision made after discussions held by the manager and the team’s front office. The way things have been going with Hanshin this year, where the on-field manager’s orders are law, well, that kind of infrastructure leads to miscalculations and bad decisions. Granted, we won’t know if Rogers’ and Campbell’s releases were a big mistake until the Climax Series is over, but…

Actually, Kanemoto’s marshal law has been seen in effect in other areas as well. The most obvious example is Kakefu’s stepping down as farm manager at season’s end. There was a rather large chasm between their ways of thinking about player development on the farm. Kanemoto wanted to quash the players with copious amounts of practice, Carp-style. On the other hand, Kakefu put more of the onus on the players to put in the time to improve themselves. The result of this discrepancy is Kakefu’s resignation.

A club representative had this to say: “Even if their opinions differed, the second squad is supposed to fall under the club’s jurisdiction. The club should have heard the two out and made the necessary adjustments. But the club was not able to bridge the gap, and as a result, the decision to oust Kakefu was finalized. In the end, the club adhered to Kanemoto’s orders, since his contract has been renewed for next season, and Kakefu was told he would be laid off at season’s end.”

It makes sense that if the club wants to be shaped into Kanemoto’s mold completely, that it would leave the rebuilding process solely in his hands. However, a manager is just a temporal piece in the longstanding operations of a baseball club. What would become of a club after its manager who has full control over roster adjustments, acquisitions, and everything else, departs?

A big-name former Hanshin player spoke out: “I was given the opportunity to have a few words with team owner Sakai. I told him that if everything – drafting, import and free agent acquisitions, coaching staff appointing – was left to Kanemoto, picking up all the pieces after he leaves the team will be a huge mess. The club itself needs to have the final say in how the team is built. The owner was nodding along with what I said.”

So where does the club stand in all this? The front office has been in place for a long time, but under its current lineup there is no indication that they are going to step up. There have been plenty of moves that have caused them to shake their heads. For example, the acquisition of import Eric Campbell. Kanemoto used the team’s first pick in the draft to get third baseman Yusuke Ohyama, and then converted Takashi Toritani from short to third, but insisted that the team acquire an import third baseman only. Complete overlap. On the other hand, when spring training broke last February, the team still had no true first baseman. The only option the team had heading into Opening Day was Haraguchi, who had been converted from catcher.

“A very obvious stacking at one position while another was left vacant. What kind of roster building plan is that? Unbelievable,” one team representative chuckled scornfully.

In other words, the front office is not being counted on for anything. If this situation continues to be ignored, the club will depend more and more on Kanemoto for everything, and it will be hard to set a longterm plan in motion. This is the very condition that has those around the team screaming for the club to go back to having a GM in place.

Former manager Katsuhiro Nakamura was instated as the club’s first ever GM on September 5, 2012. He was crucial in the acquisition of Kosuke Fukudome and opening the door for Kakefu to become development coordinator, but he died suddenly in a Tokyo hotel room on September 23, 2015. Since then, the GM position has remained vacant.

Senior Advisor Yutaka Wada, who was the Tigers manager for 4 years immediately before Kanemoto took the helm, has been offered a position and will formally join the front office this offseason. Having played, coached and managed the Tigers, Wada is a valuable asset who knows a lot about the sport of baseball. He could even be the one to right the divergent ship that the “Kanemoto Tigers” have become.

There are numerable issues (new import acquisitions, post-Kakefu farm coaching staff, trades, the draft, and more) that the club needs to take control of. The ball club is in dire need of an unshakeable leader. Hiring Yutaka Wada as General Manager doesn’t sound like such a bad option, does it.

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T-Ray is the founder, chief writer and Junior Executive Vice President of Hanshin Tigers English News (H-TEN). Find him on Twitter @thehanshintiger.