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The Tale of a Fallen Hiro


Without a doubt this was not what Hiroyuki Nakajima had in mind when he came to the United States and joined the Oakland Athletics. In fact, he and the New York Yankees failed to agree to terms prior to the 2012 season primarily because they couldn’t guaranteed him playing time.  When he signed with the Oakland Athletics, he was ordained the starting shortstop.

April 1, 2013; Oakland, CA, USA; Oakland Athletics shortstop Hiroyuki Nakajima (3) is announced before the game against the Seattle Mariners at O.co Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Now, it’s mid-August and we have yet to see Hiro Nakajima in an A’s uniform since he was part of the Opening Day festivities.  He’s never taken a Major League at bat, and now there seems to be an ever diminishing chance he will with the Athletics.  A few days ago he was outrighted off the 40 man roster of the Athletics, a minor move that would seem to seal his fate as a River Cat for the duration of the 2013 season.  Whether this move was a precursor to something else, remains to be seen.  But the message was clear, Nakajima is not in the plans for 2013 by any stretch.

We all fondly remember Nakajima’s introductory press conference.  He appeared on stage, beaming with pride and eagerly adorning his fresh white Athletics jersey.  He worked his way into all of our hearts by declaring Billy Beane to be “sexy and cool” and by expressing his desire to “Bernie dance with Oakland.”  He spoke primarily in Japanese, save for a few well memorized statements in English.  After the success of the 2012 season, Hiro Nakajima had many A’s fans eagerly awaiting the 2013 season.

I for one was a major proponent of the signing of Nakajima.  I advocated bringing him into the fold back in November of last year, and was thrilled when it was clear there was a match.  Sure, there was a level of uncertainty with bringing in a Japanese middle infielder and plugging him into the everyday lineup, but his solid numbers in Japan seemed to indicate he would be able to have some level of success in MLB.

The reasons why he is a minor leaguer right now are simple, the A’s pulled the trigger on a surprise trade late in the offseason to acquire Jed Lowrie, and then Hiro struggled mightily during Spring Training.  After injuring his hamstring at the end of camp, Nakajima was headed to the DL, but was optioned to Triple A upon his activation.  Meanwhile Lowrie was having a very nice season with the Athletics, and had all but made A’s fans forget about Hiro altogether.

Nakajima has been pretty solid in Sacramento this year, in 329 plate appearances he has posted a .287/.340/.372 slash line.  He isn’t hitting for much in the way of power, but that’s not his game really, and it never was despite what some dramatic home run highlights from Japan might lead you to believe.  But he is getting on base at a decent rate, and is playing all over the infield.

While Hiro has been injured and in the minors, Andy Parrino, Adam Rosales, and Grant Green have all been given some level of opportunity to stick with the Athletics.  None of them have been successful.  Rather than finally give Hiro his chance, the A’s saw fit to acquire the services of a known commodity in Alberto Callaspo to play opposite the surprisingly useful Eric Sogard in a platoon at second base.

Unlike Jemile Weeks, who may have ruffled some feathers with his infamous “I’m a superstar” comment last year, Hiro Nakajima has done nothing to draw the ire of the A’s brass, that we’re aware of.  So while the A’s attempt to right themselves and embark on their final playoff push, it appears as if Hiro Nakajima will have to watch it on television, that is if he can even stomach to watch the team