I thought this was a joke when I saw the tweet, I really did, but apparently it's true: according to Shi Davidi, the Toronto Blue Jays have "a verbal agreement" free agent pitcher Tomo Ohka to a minor league contract, almost seven years after they signed him for the first time. It's nice to see that an another former Montreal Expo has decided to try to return to the major leagues via the Blue Jays. Just a few hours ago, Daniel Russell of D Rays Bay reported that the Rays have "checked in" on Ohka's agent, and Chris Cotillo of MLB Daily Dish reported that the Orioles had as well. A Japanese Daily Sports Online report from... tomorrow.... revealed that Ohka had received minor league contract offers from three teams.
Ohka became one of the handful of players to have played for both Montreal and Toronto in 2007, when he went 2-5 with a 5.79 ERA in ten starts before he was released in mid-June. As Ian noted at The Blue Jay Hunter, Tomo Ohka was the last free agent starting pitcher the Blue Jays have signed to a major league deal (Roy Halladay's ceremonial contract notwithstanding).
Ohka, who is now 37, has been out of North American baseball since 2009, having returned to pitch for Yokohama in 2010 and part of 2011, which was shortened by a shoulder surgery. Ohka has reinvented himself as a knuckleballer (nakkurubora) after rehabbing in 2012, throwing it for a Japanese independent league team.
It definitely isn't the "angry" knuckleball that fellow organization-mate R.A. Dickey is famous for.
According to a horrible Google Translate translation of this Nikkan Sports article, Ohka threw 21 games with Toyoma in 2013, going 7-7 with a 3.73 ERA, although his knuckleball control was lacking. He had planned to travel to Arizona to work with college students in October; it is unknown whether he actually did--perhaps that's where the Blue Jays scouted him. But why would the Blue Jays want to sign a 37-year-old knuckleballer who struggled in Japanese independent ball? Gideon Turk of Blue Jays plus came up with a pretty decent theory:
If Jimenez is able to catch a knuckleball, Josh Thole doesn’t need to be on a major league roster! Victory!— Gideon Turk (@gideonturk) December 12, 2013
The only hole I can punch into that is that the knuckleball Ohka throws seems to be of a different species than the ones that Dickey has. But I guess that any practice with knuckleballs for catchers coming up mean that the Blue Jays would not be handcuffed to Josh Thole, or any other sub-par catcher with knuckleball-catching experience, for the balance of Dickey's time in Toronto.
EDIT: Now that I think about it, I think one of the reasons Ohka decided to sign with he Blue Jays was that he would get to interact and learn the craft from Master Dickey in spring training. Interesting.
Fun Fact! "Tomokazu Ohka", or Ohka Tomokazu (大家友和) in Japanese name order, means "big family friend peace."
Munenori Kawasaki News
As I was browsing through Japanese websites fore news about Ohka, I found this piece about free agent Munenori Kawasaki. Translated, it says:
Blue Jays from FA became Munenori Kawasaki Toronto Sun electronic version dated 10 was told, that the infielder (32), has been investigated by focusing on two of the probe択residual forces or reversion to Japan. Agent of Kawasaki visit the winter meeting, and that was met with military leaders breakfast. Name has been cited by the U.S. media as one of the winning candidate Mets, the Dodgers, Kawasaki, suggesting an intention breakfast troops re-up.
The piece was obviously talking about this article from the Sun, who mentioned that Kawasaki's agent, Kenta Yagi, met with the Blue Jays on Tuesday and that he was still trying to decide on returning to the Blue Jays or heading back to Japan. I don't know whether that means that those were the only two choices he had, and why the Mets or the Dodgers were named in the Japanese article. And I also assume that "military leaders" are general managers. I also like the idea of having breakfast troops re-up--it is the most important meal of the day.