Kawakami arrives at Braves camp — and why is he here? (updated)

Kenshin Kawakami was back at Camp Braves Wednesday -- for some inexplicable reason.

Kenshin Kawakami was back at Camp Braves Wednesday -- for some inexplicable reason.

(UPDATED: 11:40 a.m. with comments from general manager Frank Wren.)

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — More than two weeks after pitchers and catchers reported to spring training, Kenshin Kawakami – along with a translator and about 10 trailing members of the Japanese media — finally made it into Braves camp Wednesday.

Question: Why?

Given Kawakami’s extended absence and the fact he’s coming back to a team that clearly doesn’t want him, he deserves some credit for spinning this one-liner: “It feels like I was in elementary school, I was sick the whole time and then I came back.”

But he shouldn’t be here. That’s less a knock on Kawakami than it is the Braves. They created an unnecessary distraction by bringing the pitcher to their camp after taking him off their 40-man roster in November and spending the entire offseason trying to trade him.

The belief is that Braves general manager Frank Wren was hoping Kawakami would either sign back with a Japanese team (which didn’t interest the pitcher) or he could entice another team into picking up a significant chunk (maybe half) of the remaining $6.67 million on his contract. Neither has occurred. That means Wren now has to wait for Kawakami to get in shape, pitch some games and impress other teams, assuming other teams have a need created by injuries or other pitchers fizzling.

In the meantime, the Braves have a relatively high-profile player in camp who logically will not be on the team this season. Is this really worth it?

When asked about the situation, Kawakami, always pleasant and polite, responded through a translator: “There’s not much I can do about that. It’s about this year. Honestly, I did have some doubts [I would be back].”

Does he feel it’s only a matter of time before he’s traded?

“With other teams, that’s not even in my mind right now. Since I’m here with the team I have to try to prove myself. … It [the future] is something I am a little worried about. But I just need to pitch my best.”

Wren said he’s not concerned about any distraction issues because Kawakami doesn’t draw attention to himself. He likened the situation to last year, when the team attempted to trade Derek Lowe. “If there’s any disruption, it’s between K.K. and the club, not K.K. and his teammates, just like there was no problem between Derek Lowe and his teammates last year [after the team attempted to deal Lowe.”

As for Kawakami’s future, he acknowledged that the Braves have pitching depth and, “It may mean we trade him, but we haven’t found the right match yet.”

Kawakami signed a three-year, $23 million contract in 2009. He has a record of 8-22 and a 4.32 ERA to show for it. He lost his first nine decisions last season before beating the Detroit Tigers (one earned run in seven innings) but was sent to the bullpen, then to Gwinnett. Nobody expected he would be back with the Braves this season.

Kawakami admitted family members, most notably his mother, tried to talk him out of coming back. But he said his friends told him to return “and prove what you’re able to be.”

When asked if he felt this was an “unfair” situation, he responded: “I just didn’t have it last year. I don’t think it’s unfair at all. I feel it’s a new year and I don’t want to look back at last year. Just in general I wasn’t able to give quality starts and quality pitching for my team.”

When Kawakami walked into the dugout, he was given an ovation from his teammates. When someone yelled speech, he responded, “No speech.” In the clubhouse, he was greeted by Lowe, who later joked: “We had to send Brett Favre to go get him.”

Kawakami isn’t on the Favre level of distractions. But it could’ve been avoided.

By Jeff Schultz

Last few posts from Braves’ camp

Braves need McLouth or Schafer to end looniness in center

ESPN’s Buster Olney: Braves may beat out Phillies in East

Braves’ Lee Elia knows hitting (and what not to say anymore)

Chipper Jones gets hit in return and takes a swing at critics

Follow me on Twitter @JeffSchultzAJC; friend me at Facebook.com/JeffSchultzAJC

145 comments Add your comment

Dr.Jones10

March 2nd, 2011
10:01 am

I may not like how he’s pitched, but at least he’s placing the blame squarely on his own shoulders.
I hope he turnes it around and give us quality innings.

And first?
Never really understood the significance of that.

Rich T

March 2nd, 2011
10:01 am

Jeff Schultz: “Kawakami arrives at Braves camp”

Whew!

FunkyBobbyJ

March 2nd, 2011
10:13 am

How is it a distraction having players compete for roster spots? Isn’t that what spring training is for? Kudos for the guy wanting to come in and try to prove himself to himself, the Braves or anyone else. Obviously the guy has/had some talent, or the Braves wouldn’t have signed him.

Herschel Talker

March 2nd, 2011
10:16 am

Schultzie:

They could make him the most expensive clubhouse sushi chef ever! At least that would keep him away from opposing batters.

HT

chem

March 2nd, 2011
10:17 am

Derek Lowe’s ERA through the past 2 seasons: 4.34 —- Kenshin Kawakami’s ERA through the same time period: 4.32. I have no earthly idea why Kawakami has become such a target for criticism from the ajc other than the fact that he’s not from Cali.

Nyjer Morgan Glove Slam

March 2nd, 2011
10:23 am

Imagine if KK would have actually gotten some run support last year…

GB

March 2nd, 2011
10:24 am

I kinda agree with chem. He had some of the worst luck I have ever seen, and showed some oretty good stuff at times.

GB

March 2nd, 2011
10:25 am

“pretty good stuff” Yikes!

Delbert D.

March 2nd, 2011
10:25 am

Maybe to showcase him to unsuspecting AL teams?

Innocent Bystander

March 2nd, 2011
10:26 am

Thanks, chem. I’m glad someone else sees that KK isn’t half bad, it just so happens he’s on a team comprised of really good pitchers and really good pitching prospects. He gave us a good ‘09 season (3.86 ERA in 156.1 IP), and I remember him matching many opposing aces step-for-step. He’d make a good 5th starter for many teams that lack our pitching depth.

D A DoubleU G

March 2nd, 2011
10:27 am

Kawakami will go 22-1 and win the Cy Young this year

kaminari

March 2nd, 2011
10:28 am

He needs to change his approach and get some guys out. The confidence will come back and he’ll be fine. I watched him pitch for several seasons in J-league ball. He will produce, just needs a home. But not ATL unless something crazy happens.

Blackberry Cobbler

March 2nd, 2011
10:28 am

THANK YOU chem @ 10:17am. You said it all brother and nailed it on the head.

D-Lowe is a joke and no better than Kasakami, yet Kawasaki takes the heat.

D A DoubleU G

March 2nd, 2011
10:31 am

He has ZERO drop motion on his balls (giggle giggle). All his balls come out flat and straight. If there were no mound, he would pitch risers and would be successful.

Unfortunately for KK, there’s a mound in pro ball.

Dawglasville

March 2nd, 2011
10:32 am

Ohayo gozaimasu – The attitude is refreshing. Let the guy compete.

PTC DAWG

March 2nd, 2011
10:35 am

I’ve seen pitchers with worse ERA’s than his in the Majors.

Hillbilly Deluxe

March 2nd, 2011
10:38 am

My guess is they are hoping he has a good enough spring that somebody will take him off their hands, at some price.

Sleeze

March 2nd, 2011
10:41 am

This column is kind of appropriate, since I’m sure all the Braves players look at Jeff Schultz hanging around the stadium and ask “Why is he here?”

T-Bone

March 2nd, 2011
10:42 am

Schultz,

He’s not a distraction. He’s handled his demotion like a pro, far better thatn most “American” athletes would have. The Japanese media follow him anyway. Let him compete. If his ERA is comparable to D-Lowe, maybe he’ll have a season comparable to D-Lowe of last year!

Geezer

March 2nd, 2011
10:44 am

The ovation the Braves gave him is probably the last applause he will hear all year, except for the cheering when he is traded, cut or shown the back door – which can only come to soon! Wasted trip and Wasted Money to even bring him to camp!!!

Ron E.

March 2nd, 2011
10:45 am

His contract is a sunk cost. If you’re not going to use him and you can’t trade him, just release him and let him and the team move on already. I don’t really get why a team that gave the likes of Kyle Davies and Jojo Reyes years in the majors to prove they sucked has been so hard on Kawakami.

DP

March 2nd, 2011
10:45 am

Schultz, your continued unfunny insults and ugliness toward Kawakami are long past old. At least he admits he was lousy last year. The fact that the rest of the Braves gave him an ovation tells me he has been a good teammate.

MitchC

March 2nd, 2011
10:46 am

Jeff, KK is in camp because Frank Wren is inept. it could also be the baseball economic climate, but, I have a feeling if JS was still the GM, KK would be gone.

In all fairness, while KK has pitched poorly, he is also a bit like former Mets pitcher Anthony Young, a guy with an ERA of about 4, with no luck.

I’m guessing the Braves wont just unconditionally release KK and eat his contract. I’d be surprised if another team takes him, so I don’t know what the answer is.

Crip

March 2nd, 2011
10:53 am

Come on yank mes. pony up. you need a pitcher. go get him

Mark (another one)

March 2nd, 2011
10:56 am

Gonzales should evaluate Kawakami himself and see what’s there. Its Fredi’s butt on the line, and Kawakami may be the best option at the fifth starter role. He can also put some pressure on the other contenders. His attitude (through the press) has always been positive and wanting to compete. If that is accurate, let him compete.

In the mean time, Kawakami needs to get ready to pitch this season. He will either be in the majors with the Braves or someone else, because someone is going to look at him to start and eat innings. If the Braves trade him, they may need to eat some salary but it is doubtful they would need to eat all $7 2/3 million. There is no reason to let him disappear in the lower minors.

Ted Striker

March 2nd, 2011
10:58 am

KK coming to camp under contract? Distraction? Only if he brought Ricky Vaughn as a personal pitching coach. (With his “goddesses”)

Scott

March 2nd, 2011
11:00 am

no harm whatsoever in letting the guy compete for a spot. how is that a distraction? if nothing else, it pushes the guys in front of him to perform better. he sounds like a professional and a class act.

Supes

March 2nd, 2011
11:03 am

Why is he here Jeff…simple…over six million reasons!!!

Same reason Nate McLouth is our opening day CF-er…

Wren has done good but he’s also done some deals for the Braves that flat out didn’t workout at all…they had potential but the players under performed given the expectations when they were brought in. Case and point…KK and McLouth.

GoBraves!

March 2nd, 2011
11:13 am

I don’t see any problem him being there. He’ll compete to be on the roster just like every other rookies or has-beens. If he actually pitches well this spring then let him be 5th starter. Minors didn’t pitch particularly well last year. He could use some more seasoning at Gwinnett. And if Kawakami works well as 5th starter he could be a trade bait in mid season. I remember him beating Roy Halladay 2 years ago at Turner. Maybe hitters figured him out but his ERA last year indicates he’s not as bad as Jeff Schultz makes him out to be.

Fish Bisch

March 2nd, 2011
11:13 am

THE DRAGON SLAYER HAS RETURENED! BEST OF LUCK kk

Fish Bisch

March 2nd, 2011
11:14 am

Sorry didn’t mean to internet scream.

bravofan

March 2nd, 2011
11:17 am

schultz: I enjoyed this very much so nice job sir!!!!

bravofan

March 2nd, 2011
11:18 am

gobraves: Minors oh by minors you mean Minor…gotcha
He looked a lot better in his starts last season the K.K. ever has for the most part.

leroy

March 2nd, 2011
11:23 am

Kawakami is actually pretty good when he can control his fastball, commits himself to throwing his fastball early in the account, throws his fastball for strikes and pitches ahead in the count- just like every other pitcher in MLB.

I hope he realizes that- or the Braves make him realize that- and makes the commitment to get to the point he can throw his fastball for strike one low and outside. You never know how things will go once the season starts and he could prove to be a valuable asset for the Braves, whether for them or in a trade, but only if he can control the fastball.

yubyub

March 2nd, 2011
11:24 am

I really don’t think Kawakami is that bad. A 4.32 ERA is not that bad and I think it’s wrong to treat him like he was terrible. He simply doesn’t get run support. Derek Lowe had an ERA similar to Kawakami, and he doesn’t get a bad reputation for it because the team hits when Lowe is on the mound. I think Kawakami is worth giving another shot for the fifth spot in the rotation. He’s proven he can pitch well, he just hasn’t had a good transition from the Japanese league. I think all of this talk about how crappy Kawakami is simply is not warranted and not necessarily all correct. An 8-22 record doesn’t indicate how well a player pitched. Halladay lost ten games last year – he also won the Cy Young.

Art Vandelay

March 2nd, 2011
11:24 am

He gets points for taking responsibility for his performance (or lack thereof) last year — most guys would’ve made excuses or blamed outside forces. If he’s done some serious work and soul-searching to improve his game this year, then welcome back; otherwise, his presence in camp serves no real purpose.

Pocaroba sausage

March 2nd, 2011
11:27 am

So the guy struggled last year. He’s owned up to it and trying to turn it around. How can you possibly fault that. The guy has shown that he can in fact pitch. He may not be worth the money but we ought to do everything we can to help him be successfull. Maybe some other team desperate for pitching will pick him up if we cover part of his salary. As for me, I like Kenshin and wish him the best.

Heisenberg

March 2nd, 2011
11:29 am

KK came with a reputation for having a very good curve ball which he threw a lot his first season with Braves and had some success. Last year he seemed to be throwing more straight fast balls and flat sliders. He is just not overpowering enough to pitch like that. He needs to use the curve more and develop a change-up. He could be a serviceable 4th or 5th starter for someone other than Braves. He needs to be in camp and get a few appearances in order to be traded.

Robert

March 2nd, 2011
11:34 am

Why is he here?

He’s here to collect his money

Katherine

March 2nd, 2011
11:35 am

I sure hope he doesn’t pitch for the braves again…it was painful and a guaranteed loss every time he pitched last season.

ds

March 2nd, 2011
11:37 am

wish him the best. maybe he can help with the bullpen if he gets it together.

TERRY P.

March 2nd, 2011
11:39 am

He has never done anything for me not to like him. Even last year he pitched a few games better than people give him credit for. I think that he should get a fair shot at the number 5 spot and if he does not then that is just stupidity on the Braves. Why not put the best five out there. If its KK then its KK if its not then its not.

BobHornersCast

March 2nd, 2011
11:40 am

I think he should be given a fair shot at the starting staff, just like anybody else.

Bob Sacamano

March 2nd, 2011
11:42 am

Give him a chance in ST and at AAA and see what he does. If he bombs out, assign him to the grounds crew.

KK

March 2nd, 2011
11:43 am

Me thank you very much for many many dollars. Thank you very much.

5150 UOAD

March 2nd, 2011
11:45 am

It just blows your mind and unwanted employee still gets to work and pickup a huge paycheck. I can hardly pay for the gas, ticket, hot dog, and beer at the park and these guys are getting paid. My money and passion are just going to have to stay with college football.

5150 UOAD

March 2nd, 2011
11:47 am

For that money make him clean toilets and the showers in the locker rooms.

Braves Fan

March 2nd, 2011
11:51 am

Why is Jeff Schultz still here? He has no class.

joe

March 2nd, 2011
11:54 am

Uh…..maybe because he’s owed almost 7 million dollars? You expect the Braves’ to eat that money without trying to recoup some of it? My goodness you’re an idiot.

Larry

March 2nd, 2011
12:03 pm

Jeff,

Here’s a thought…

Some of us feel the same about Chipper occupying a position on the field and in the batting order that many–including current team members–could man thus have a better overall TEAM with Prado at 3rd, McClouth in left, Schafer in center (perfect leadoff player) and Uggla, not Chipper, batting 3rd.

As I’m willing to do with Chipper (not that I have a choice), why not give this very gracious and humble man a chance?