The SS Search Continues, or Who the Heck is Hiroyuki Nakajima?
By Sean Davis
It has been the focal point of the Oakland Athletics offseason, I know there has been no lack of coverage on this very site about it, and people are probably quite frankly tired of hearing about it. But while the MLB Hot Stove continues to simmer, and no major activity is taking place, rumors begin swirling around about what could happen. I’m sure that once the first domino falls, many more will follow.
Seems less and less likely this guy will wear that sweet gold uniform again. (Kelley L Cox-US PRESSWIRE)
I wrote a few days ago about the report that the Athletics expected to be “bottom feeders” when it comes to filling their need at SS for 2013 rather than trade one of their young talented pitchers to acquire an already established one. Needless to say that was a rather disconcerting notion for many A’s fans who expected that if the Athletics would be unable to resign Stephen Drew, they would make a strong effort to go out and get a strong replacement.
Then the man who has his finger on the pulse of MLB perhaps more closely than anyone in the world, Ken Rosenthal brought a new name into the mix, and mentioned the Athletics as one of the teams who may have interest. The man’s name is Hiroyuki Nakajima, a 30 year old 2-time Gold Glove winner in Japan. That name may sound somewhat familiar to many of you because he was posted by his Japanese team, the Seibu Lions, last offseason and the high bidding team was the New York Yankees. The Yankees though wanted to sign Nakajima as something of a utility man, considering they have this Derek Jeter guy kind of set at SS. Nakajima wanted no part of a bench role, even if it was with the world’s premier baseball franchise. So Nakajima returned to the Lions, and continued his productivity. This year is different, Nakajima is a free agent and is planning to try once again to play in the United States.
As Rosenthal notes, there have been very few Japanese infielders who have come the the States and succeeded. Kaz Matsui and Taduhito Iguchi come to mind as two who did have some success, but ultimately found themselves out of American baseball. But Nakajima’s numbers in JPL have been quite impressive. In 6 seasons Nakajima has posted a .310/.381/.474 line in 3576 plate appearances over 821 games. He has reached the 20 home run plateau in 3 of his seasons, and has stolen as many as 25 in a season. He sounds like a great contact hitter, who has some pop when he gets his pitch, and has good speed to compliment that. Sign me up for the Nakajima bandwagon.
It goes without saying that the transition from JPL to MLB can be a rough one for some players, but it is pretty common for a Japanese hitter to come to the US and atleast have a couple productive years before fading. At this point, Nakajima would not have to be the A’s shortstop for now and the future, just for now. Addison Russell is the shortstop of the future barring a position change, but if he can be decent enough in the field there, his bat will carry him to the promise land. Russell could be in Oakland within 2-3 years.
The fielding numbers for Nakajima (at least on Baseball Reference) are a bit fuzzy, so I won’t cite them, but the simple fact that he has won Gold Glove awards there should demonstrate at the very least that he isn’t a disaster out there.
I fully endorse the notion of Billy Beane and co. targeting Nakajima to play for the green-and-gold. Considering the rather low $2 million posting fee that won the bidding for him last year, it’s tough to say where his market value would be. I would estimate a 2-3 year contract, perhaps with an option, worth somewhere around $5 million per season could get the job done. The A’s are in a position where they might not have to sign a scrub shortstop, but also not have to part with any of their young talent, and not have to settle for subpar in house options either. This seems like a perfect match, here’s to hoping both parties realize that.