Top of the Order: Mizuhara Set To Be Charged

Top of the Order: Mizuhara Set To Be Charged


Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome back to Top of the Order, where every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, I’ll be starting your baseball day with some news, notes, and thoughts about the game we love.

In one of the quicker conclusions to a headline-grabbing baseball story I can think of, Shohei Ohtani’s former interpreter, Ippei Mizuhara, is set to be charged with bank fraud; he’ll reportedly surrender to authorities on Friday, with an arraignment date still to be scheduled.

Mizuhara’s alleged transgressions, which were detailed in a federal affidavit filed Thursday, were even more extensive than had previously been reported. According to the complaint, federal investigators claim that Mizuhara stole more than $16 million from Ohtani (or “Victim A,” as he’s referred to in the document), rather than the initially reported $4.5 million.

Mizuhara will not enter a plea in court on Friday. According to federal sentencing guidelines, he faces a maximum fine of $1 million and/or up to 30 years in prison.

The federal complaint notes that investigators “did not find any evidence to suggest that Victim A was aware of, or involved in, Mizuhara’s illegal gambling activity or payment of those debts.”

“I want to emphasize this point: Mr. Ohtani is considered a victim in this case,” U.S. Attorney Martin Estrada said during a news conference in Los Angeles. “Mr. Mizuhara used and abused that position of trust … in order to plunder Mr. Ohtani’s bank account to the tune of over $16 million.”

For more on these developments, be sure to give Michael Baumann’s Thursday column a read.

The Guardians’ Newly Built Bullpen Bridge

As I’ve made clear, I’m a roster sicko. I pride myself on knowing what’s going on with all 30 teams, and all 26 players on those teams’ active rosters, at all times. At a bar last Monday night, I relished performing my favorite silly party trick: asking my friends to name a random position on a random team’s depth chart. (I was able to offer up Jason Delay and Ryan Feltner in about two seconds.) Teams evolve just about every day, and I love staying on top of the players who seemingly come out of nowhere. And as a unit, I don’t think any group has seen more players come out of nowhere with greater success this season than the Guardians bullpen.

Trevor Stephan (UCL reconstruction) and James Karinchak (shoulder inflammation) are both on the 60-day IL, while Sam Hentges (finger inflammation) is on the 15-day IL; all three played key roles last year ahead of closer Emmanuel Clase. Despite those absences, the Guardians are in a virtual tie for first place in reliever WAR, helping propel the team to a 9-3 start.

Clase has been great even with velocity that continues to trend slightly downward, but the only other pitcher with significant closing experience on the team is Scott Barlow, and he’s come out of the gates slowly. Rather, it’s the ragtag bunch of inexperienced arms who have kept the Guardians afloat despite all of the IL time.

Hunter Gaddis was disastrous in his first big league action in 2022, improved to decent last year, and is now pumping 98-99 mph heat. Sidearmer Nick Sandlin has given up just one hit to 26 batters. Rookie Cade Smith has a strikeout rate above 40% thanks to a nasty fastball/splitter combo. Fellow rookie Tim Herrin is holding things down as the bullpen’s sole lefty until Hentges returns. And former top prospect Tyler Beede (!!!) — who pitched in Japan last year and came into 2024 with a 5.34 ERA across 187 innings in the majors — appears to have reinvented himself, with a strikeout rate nearly as high as Smith’s and, like Sandlin, just one hit allowed so far.

The bullpen is the place where pitchers rise from the ashes of unheralded, underwhelming, or all-but-dead careers, allowing teams to cobble together largely anonymous groups that help them make the playoffs. And until you get to Clase, one of the truly elite closers in the game, it might be relative unknown after relative unknown who’s shutting you down in Cleveland — for now, at least.

Bullpens are, of course, notoriously fickle, but the Guardians have depth that I didn’t think they possessed when Stephan, Karinchak, and Hentges all went down. They’ve got some tough decisions to make when Hentges and perhaps Karinchak come back (Stephan is out for the year), but they’ve also got flexibility: only Barlow and Beede can’t be optioned to the minors. And in a league where the best pitching staffs are often determined by a war of attrition, the Guardians are doing quite the job on the front lines, and having more men to send into battle is always extremely valuable.

Please Just Stay Healthy, Mike

Allow me to absolutely eat crow and say that when I saw Mike Trout’s spring training performance, knowing that he was relatively mortal last year, I thought we were finally in for his decline. Well, it sure isn’t here yet! Trout has been cartoonishly good even by his standards, hitting .318/.400/.795 (234 wRC+) and clubbing six home runs over his first 12 games. And he’s even been somewhat unlucky on non-homers: His BABIP is just .267!

Not only are the Mickey Mantle comparisons back with a vengeance, we might be through the looking glass with Trout.

I tend to agree with Baumann, and not just because he’s a nice guy! I’m not sure Trout can reclaim his title of best player in baseball quite so quickly, but I often put Trout’s performance in the Tungsten Arm O’Doyle context of “haha, Trout hit another homer, but the Angels are losing” when I should probably just appreciate him for what he is: one of the greatest players ever, one who’s as good as just about anyone when he’s healthy enough to stay on the field.


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