Monday, January 28, 2013

Cubs Should Pursue Hideki Okajima

According to Nikkan Sports (via MLBTR), the Softbank Hawks of Japan has released former Red Sox Hideki Okajima so that the reliever can pursue opportunities back in MLB. Okajima registered a 0.94 ERA over 47 2/3 innings of work while featuring 6.8 K/9 and 1.1 BB/9 ratios. The lefty actually had a higher K/9 ratio during his four seasons with the Red Sox, although the higher level of competition led to a career ERA of 3.11. A shoulder injury on his pitching arm side prevented Okajima from attempting to continue his MLB career via a minor league deal with the rival Yankees, hence the return to Japan to pitch for Softbank.

The early word is that the Oakland Athletics have interest in securing the southpaw’s services. The lack of other teams knocking down Okajima’s door would make it reasonable that the Japanese lefty figures to find a minor league offer and an invite to Spring Training at best. Considering Theo Epstein’s familiarity with Okajima from his days in Boston, it would not be out of the question for the Cubs to pursue the former Softbank Hawk.

The 37 year old lefty could help fellow countryman Kyuji Fujikawa adjust to MLB and life in America. As for the Cubs bullpen, it currently only features one veteran left hander in the form of James Russell. Unless Chris Rusin and Brooks Raley are shifted to relief duty, the pitching depth in terms of southpaws is thin to say the least. The Cubs would certainly be addressing that need by signing Okajima, age and durability in the Majors be damned. A minor league deal would not impact the current 40 man roster that already has Scott Hairston in a holding pattern.

This is exactly the type of low risk, higher reward opportunity that Epstein and Company have known to thrive on.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Roppongi’s Roi Building continues to swing

n the early morning hours of September 2 of last year, a group of approximately 10 males in ski masks and armed with metal bats arrived at club Flower, located in the Roppongi entertainment district, and assaulted 31-year-old restaurant manager Ryosuke Fujimoto, who was drinking in the club Flower’s VIP room with a party of five or six persons.

Fujimoto suffered substantial head injuries and was transported to a nearby hospital, where he died an hour and 20 minutes later.

The grisly crime has remained unsolved, though Tokyo Metropolitan Police have issued a number of arrest warrants for former members of the Kanto Rengo bosozoku motorcycle gang.

The club, which is now closed, was located on the second floor of the Roi Building, which houses dozens of clubs, bars, and restaurants. Nikkan Gendai (Jan. 1) reports that in spite of the murder investigation and rumors of a redevelopment project the building’s tenants still swing.

“Flower, stained with a sea of blood, changed its name after the incident,” says a local restaurant employee. “But the club’s managers were busted immediately for licensing problems. Now, a chain is stretched across the entrance. People find it to be a strange scene since there is a no plan for it to reopen.”

It also could seem strange since other businesses in the building haven’t missed a beat. (Nikkan Gendai describes the building with the term fuyajo, meaning a castle that never sleeps.)

Zoo Tokyo, a huge, high-end kyabakura (hostess club) occupying one entire floor, has been doing a brisk trade. During this past bonenkai season, customers were lined up outside, waiting to spend between 20,000 and 30,000 yen (entrance fees start at 5,000 yen) on one of the 100 hostesses on staff. (The club maintains 250 ladies on its books.)

Any lingering effects of the murder and the ongoing recession seem to not matter. But that will change quickly if continuing rumors about a redevelopment plan prove to be true.

Local media has reported that the massive project, which may extend from the site Roi Building to the edge of Mori Building’s Roppongi Hills complex, could begin in 2013.

“I heard that the Roi Building would be demolished,” says a hostess. “Is it real? I mean, we’ve heard this before. The club is telling me to earn as much money as I can. So I’m doing my best.”

So for now, concludes Nikkan Gendai, the flickering, suspicious lights of the sleepless castle continue. (A.T.)