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April 8, 2013 5:35 am

The Asian Equation: What's at Stake?

3

Michael Street

A look at what five Asian imports have to prove this season.

Even though Japanese players first came to the major leagues almost 50 years ago (and attempts to sign them to an MLB team date back nearly 80 years), the Asian import market is still fairly new. Aside from Hideo Nomo’s dominant debut in 1995 and Ichiro Suzuki’s spectacular arrival in 2001, only a handful of Asian imports have consistently succeeded in MLB, mostly relievers, along with a few starting pitchers and position players.

That gives each new Eastern import something to prove, whether it’s the value of a different Asian league, a new way to reach MLB, or just that he’s the next Asian star. Today, I’ll look at what five prominent Asian imports have to prove—and whether they can prove it.

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Which Asian stars will shine in the WBC—and maybe one day in MLB?

In the first two editions of the World Baseball Classic (WBC), Asian teams have consistently outperformed their foreign counterparts. Japan won both the 2006 and 2009 tournaments, and Korea’s 12-4 record is the best of any country. Korea won a bronze in 2006 and a silver medal in 2009’s extra-inning, all-Asian final against Japan. There are several reasons for this apparent dominance, mainly arising from how much more seriously the Asian teams view the tournament than their Western counterparts.

Major-league players and managers see the tournament as an extended spring training, or an exhibition akin to an All-Star Game. Players are substituted not for strategic purposes but to ensure that everyone “gets their work in.” Instead of using an active manager, the U.S. team has been coached by two managers—Buck Martinez and Davey Johnson—who hadn’t worked in several seasons, making rapport with players more difficult. Additionally, many major-league players declined to participate, leaving the best players off the rosters of Western teams.

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