"Ichiro might be the only one whose job is safe for next season." This, reports Sunday Mainichi (Oct 10), is the general view of Japan's sports writers covering the U.S. Major Leagues.
Seattle Mariners right fielder Ichiro, who just ended his 10th year in the majors, also set a record for 10 straight seasons with more than 200 base hits. In over a century of U.S. pro baseball, only former Cincinnati Reds superstar Pete Rose, who holds the all-time record of 4,250 base hits, was able to hit safely over 200 times in 10 seasons, albeit not in consecutive years.
In the season that just ended, the performance of most of the other Japanese playing in the Major Leagues was marginal.
"Hideki Matsui, who was picked up by the California Angels based on his helping to lead teams to championships, is one example," notes sports writer Yasuhiko Kikuta. "For the first time in four years, the Angels didn't make it to the postseason playoffs."
But author Yoshiaki Furuuchi springs to Matsui's defense. "Among the league's designated hitters, Matsui's 20 home runs and over 80 runs batted in put him in the upper ranks. The problem is that the Angels made it conditional that he contribute to their taking the division championship. It's a different situation from Ichiro, who's on a team that appreciates his record-setting performance even though they're at the bottom of the standings.
"Besides, Matsui's contract was only for one year," adds Furuuchi. "I think he's pretty much resigned that they won't renew it."
Several other Japanese players in the MLB are said to be searching for new teams, possibly returning to teams in Japan.
"Kazuo Matsui and Akinori Iwamura seem keen on going back to Japan," says Kikuta. "Matsui went into a terrible batting slump and was put on waivers by the Houston Astros last May. After that he played for the Colorado Rockies and minor league team, and ended the season without being able to get back to the majors. Iwamura was also cut from the Pittsburgh Pirates and went to the minors. He was picked up by the Oakland Athletics when a member of the regular squad went on the disabled list. But I don't think anyone will sign him after this season."
Boston Red Sox pitching ace "Dice-K" Matsuzaka missed one month due to an injury, but still managed a respectable record of 9 wins and 6 losses. His earned run average during September, unfortunately, was abysmal. In a key game against the Tampa Bay Rays on Sept 8, he was shelled for 8 runs by the fourth inning.
Matsuzaka's team failed to make the postseason playoffs for the first time since 2007.
"In the off season, the Red Sox will be putting a lot of effort into bolstering their roster, and I won't be surprised if Matsuzaka is among players to be dropped," journalist Daisuke Sugiura predicts.
Every year since 1995, teams with Japanese players have made it to the postseason playoffs. Since Tsuyoshi Shinjo and the New York Mets in 2002, Japanese athletes appeared on teams that played in the World Series for the past eight consecutive seasons.
But sportswriter Yoshikazu Idemura notes that the latter streak may be about to end.
The sole hope rests on the success of the Atlanta Braves, this year's National League wild card team. The Braves roster includes two pitchers from Japan -- Kenshin Kawakami, with a 1-10 losing record, and 40-year-old veteran Takashi Saito.© Japan Today