Archive for Hiroyuki Nakajima

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One of the Yankees’ most surprising non-moves last offseason was their pursuit of Japanese shortstop Hiroyuki Nakajima. They won his negotiating rights with a $2.5M bid — team officials gave the impression it was a token “let’s see what happens” bid and were surprised when they won — but failed to reach an agreement on a contract. Back to the Seibu Lions went Nakajima, who hit .311/.382/.451 with 13 homers in 2012, right in line with his career averages.

The 30-year-old Nakajima is a true free agent this winter and is again looking to come over to MLB, and in fact he’s already being courted by the Diamondbacks. The Yankees liked him as a utility man last winter and obviously felt he was worth a $2.5M posting fee, so could they get involved again a year later? We know they’re seeking an upgrade over Jayson Nix, a utility man who can play 100 games between shortstop and third base next season, so if nothing else they should at least check in.

There isn’t much info about Nakajima out there, so we don’t know much about him other than the fact that he’s a right-handed hitter who’s posted decent strikeout (15.0 K%), walk (8.3 BB%), and power (.157 ISO) rates over the last three seasons. He’s played shortstop almost exclusively during his career with the Lions, though he was open to the utility role for New York last year. That’s all I know about Nakajima right there.

In a recent piece on ESPN, Ben Lindbergh spoke to former Dodgers GM Dan Evans — he signed Kaz Ishii prior to 2002 — and Japan Times journalist Jason Coskrey about why some Japanese players (Ichiro Suzuki, Hideki Matsui) are better able to make the transition to MLB than others (Kaz Matsui, Tsuyoshi Nishioka). Here’s a quick recap of the factors they cited…

  1. Ability to handle an MLB-caliber fastball. This one seems obvious, but it’s often taken for granted. “Leg kicks are prevalent [in Japan], but they can elongate a swing,” said Coskrey. “[MLB hitters] have to deal with pitchers with better stuff pounding the strike zone.”
  2. Don’t be a starter or middle infielder. Starting pitchers are creatures of habit who have to adjust their routine while infielders have to adjust to a new playing surface. Notice how MLB’s most successful Japanese hitters are outfielders (Ichiro, Matsui) while the infielders (Matsui, Nishioka) have faltered. Evans likened it to “taking a golfer out of Florida and asking him to putt on California’s greens for the first time,” which I can’t relate to at all.
  3. Good makeup. The Yankees value strong makeup, but it’s important for a Japanese player coming over to MLB because of the adjustments that have to be made. Not just to the higher caliber of competition either, to a new culture off the field as well. Lindbergh notes how this works two ways, as U.S.-born players who go to Japan tend to struggle the first year as they adjust to a new way of life.

We know Nakajima is a middle infielder, but we have no way of knowing how he relates to numbers one and three. For what it’s worth, Coskrey says Nakajima has “the mental makeup to do well. He’s a guy who’s really open to new things, really open to being coached and the type of player I think won’t really have too much trouble adjusting to the lifestyle.” Can he hit a good fastball though? Your guess is as good as mine.

With Marco Scutaro, Stephen Drew, and Jeff Keppinger expected to land starting jobs somewhere, the crop of free agent utility infielders is pretty barren this offseason. There’s Ronny Cedeno, Ryan Theriot … and that’s pretty much it. The difference between those two guys and Nakajima is that we already know they’re terrible big leaguers, but there’s a chance Nakajima might not be. I don’t think that’s enough to hand him a guaranteed contract, especially not with the 2014 payroll plan looming, but the Yankees should at least put a call in to see if he’s open to being an oft-used utility man behind some Hall of Famers who will give him a chance to win right away.

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Via Jon Heyman, the Yankees offered Hiroyuki Nakajima approximately $1M, but the more serious issue was his role. When the announcement was made that the two sides couldn’t reach a deal, we learned that they only offered him a one-year contract. A statement issued by Nakajima’s agent makes it sound like they believe he should be a starter, but apparently no MLB club agrees with that given the lack of bids.

A report from Sponichi (translated) reiterates that Nakajima was okay with the money, but he wanted to become a free agent after the one-year deal while the Yankees wanted to retain his rights for six years like every other player. As a courtesy, MLB typically allows foreign veteran players to be treated as true free agents rather than players with zero service time. Either way, what’s done is done. Nakajima will go back to Japan and the Yankees will look for another bench player elsewhere.

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The Yankees announced that they’ve failed to come to terms on a contract with Japanese shortstop Hiroyuki Nakajima. “We unfortunately could not come to an agreement with Hiroyuki,” said Brian Cashman in a press release. “We wish him the best of luck during the upcoming 2012 season.”

We heard the two sides were unlikely to reach an agreement before tomorrow’s deadline just yesterday. Since no deal was reached, the Yankees don’t have to pay the $2.5M posting fee they used to win the 29-year-old infielder’s negotiating rights last month. Jack Curry says they offered a one-year deal and nothing more, reiterating that they viewed him as a bench player. Cashman and the Yankees seemed surprised that they won the bid last month, and it’s fair to assume no other club viewed him as a starter given the lack of a significant bid.

Nakajima hit .297/.354/.433 with 16 homers and 21 steals for the Seibu Lions in 2011, and he’s consistently been a .300 average/15+ homer/15+ steal/50+ walk guy in his career. That was before the new ball drained all of the offense out of Nippon Pro Baseball, however. Nakajima played short exclusively over the last few seasons, and although he expressed interest in signing, he didn’t seem all that enthused about being a reserve. His agent even broached the idea of a sign-and-trade. The infielder will now return to Japan for another year, then become a true free agent next winter.

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Via Marc Carig and Ken Rosenthal, the Yankees and Hiroyuki Nakajima are unlikely to agree to a contract prior to Friday’s 5pm ET deadline. He needs to pass a physical before then, so time is running out. The Yankees see Nakajima as a bench player and Carig says they insist on paying him as such. If the two sides can’t reach a deal, the Yankees won’t have to pay the $2.5M posting fee and Nakajima will return to Japan. He’ll be able to become an international free agent next offseason.

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Monday: Heyman issued a correction; the deadline is Friday, not Tuesday. I knew it was later in the week, that made more sense based on when the winning bid was announced.

Sunday: Via Jon Heyman, the Yankees and Hiroyuki Nakajima are still far apart in their contract talks. The CBS Sports scribe says the deadline to get a deal worked out is Tuesday, not later in the week like I’d assumed. The Yankees won the infielder’s negotiating rights with a $2.5M bid in early-December.

Andruw Jones agreed to terms on Friday, just two days after we heard the two sides weren’t close to a deal. So yeah, this stuff can come together quickly. Nakajima is apparently “highly motivated” to play in MLB next season, and his agent even broached the idea of a sign-and-trade a few weeks ago. The Yankees haven’t discussed the idea with anyone though. I’m guessing he’ll sign for three years and about $7.5M, and not be traded before the season. Very curious to see how this whole thing plays out.

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Brian Cashman spoke to reporters earlier today, mostly about the experimental knee procedure Alex Rodriguez underwent in Germany earlier this month. Let’s recap the news…

  • “He had recovered we felt fully from his [knee] surgery,” said Cashman, who confirmed that Alex also had the procedure on his left shoulder. “I think this is more about maintaining health going forward.” The GM said A-Rod has already resumed physical activity, and for some reason he’s working out in Boise of all places (h/t Don W). The procedure was apparently taped to ensure there was no funny business. (Mark Hale, Marc Carig, Will Carroll)
  • “Nothing to report,” said Cashman about Andruw Jones, “other than I’m still talking to him.” A week or two ago we found out that the two sides hadn’t made much progress towards a new deal (Hale)
  • One way or the other, the Hiroyuki Nakajima situation will be wrapped up by next week. The two sides have 30 days to hammer out a contract after the Yankees won the infielder’s negotiating rights in early-December, and that window closes either Friday or Saturday of next week. It sounds like Cashman is waiting to see what happens with Nakajima before pursuing a new deal with Eric Chavez. (Bryan Hoch)
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Via Buster Olney, the Yankees have not yet had any conversations about a sign-and-trade scenario with Hiroyuki Nakajima, either with the player or another club interested in acquiring him. Nakajima’s agent apparently mentioned the idea at some point recently, likely because his client would rather play everyday than sit on the bench for the Yankees. The 29-year-old shortstop does want to sign and play in MLB however, and has even indicated a willingness to be a utility guy for New York.

As I mentioned yesterday, it’s tough to see Nakajima having much trade value. Only one team thought he was good enough for a $2.5M bid in the posting process, and the general consensus seems to be that he does profile best as a bench player. The two sides have roughly three weeks to hammer out a contract and a sign-and-trade scenario if they choose.

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The Yankees have a very interesting situation on their hands with Hiroyuki Nakajima, the 29-year-old Japanese shortstop whose negotiating rights they won with a $2.5M bid last week. Brian Cashman and Greg Genske (Nakajima’s agent) continue to negotiate a contract, but late last night Ken Rosenthal reported that Genske has broached the idea of a sign-and-trade scenario, in which the Yankees would sign his client before flipping him to another club.

Obviously Nakajima wants to play everyday, but we’ve heard over and over again that the Yankees view him as a bench player, a utility infielder. Nakajima has indicated a willingness to sign, and Rosenthal even says he’s intrigued by the idea of wearing pinstripes and playing behind Derek Jeter, Robinson Cano, and Alex Rodriguez. The Yankees don’t necessarily want to trade him though, and the FOX scribe goes on to quote a “rival scout” who raves about Nakajima’s makeup. There’s that makeup thing again, the Yanks really seem to have placed an emphasis on it lately.

Anyway, a sign-and-trade sounds like a wonderful idea, but we have to remember that Nakajima probably has very little trade value. I doubt the Yankees aren’t going to be able to flip him for a starting pitcher or anything substantial like that. Rosenthal says the Giants and Cubs have interest in trading for him, but apparently not enough interest to bid more than $2.5M during the posting process. Jed Lowrie is a decent comp as a middle infielder with three years of contractual control and questions about his game (defense, ability to hit righties, health), and he got traded for a middle reliever yesterday. Not even straight-up either; he had to be paired with an okay-ish pitching prospect. That’s basically our benchmark for a Nakajima trade, which means he’d likely have to be the second or third piece in a package of players if the Yankees want to receive anything meaningful.

The last two infielders to come over from Japan — Tsuyoshi Nishioka and Akinori Iwamura — signed three-year contracts worth $9M and $7.7M, respectively. Their posting fees were a little larger than Nakajima’s ($5.3M and $4.5M, respectively), but that gives us an idea of the kind of contract it will likely take to sign him. Would a club rather have Nakajima at something like three years and $8M, or one of the various middle infielders that signed two-year contracts in the $5-11M range this winter (Aaron Hill, Clint Barmes, Mark Ellis, Jamie Carroll)?  I think they’d prefer Nakajima since it’s basically the same money spread out over one more year, plus he’s several years younger than those folks. Now, would you rather have Nakajima at that price, or Eduardo Nunez? Remember, Nunez is five years younger, substantially cheaper, and under team control for another five years. ZiPS projection for Nakajima (.276/.322/.389) is almost exactly what Nunez hit this past season (.265/.313/.385).

You folks know I’m not Nunez’s biggest fan, but I think he offers more trade value than Nakajima, so perhaps the best thing for the Yankees would be to deal him and keep Nakajima. Then again, the market has shown that the trade return is likely to be underwhelming unless there are a few more players included in the package. The sign-and-trade idea suggest by Genske is a nice option for the Yankees to have, but I’m not quite sure it’s much of a help unless they sweeten the pot with some other players. That said, the Yankees did acquire a trade chip for essentially nothing, even if they get stuck paying the $2.5M posting fee, and that’s pretty awesome.

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Via David Waldstein, Brian Cashman has said that he is currently negotiating with the agent for Japanese shortstop Hiroyuki Nakajima, but the two sides aren’t close to a deal yet. The Yankees won Nakajima’s negotiating rights with a $2.5M bid last week, and the 29-year-old is likely to sign. I suspect that talks won’t get serious until after the holidays, at which point they’ll have about two weeks to hammer out a deal.

In other Nakajima news, Dan Szymborski’s ZiPS system projects a .276/.322/.389 batting line for him next season (89 OPS+), adjusting for Yankee Stadium. That’s after he hit .306/.379/.478 with an average of 19.3 homers and 18.7 stolen bases over the last three seasons with the Seibu Lions. For comparison’s sake, Eduardo Nunez hit .265/.313/.385 with 22 stolen bases this past season. Like the Yankees have been saying, Nakajima’s a utility guy.

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It was a bit surprising when we found out the Yankees had won the negotiating rights to Japanese shortstop Hiroyuki Nakajima last week, and recent reports indicate that he might not sign and instead return to Japan for another year before becoming a free agent next winter. Chad Jennings passed along an article from Nikkan Sports with some quotes from Nakajima, but online translations are a disaster. That’s why I enlisted the help of Patrick Newman, who runs the indispensable NPB Tracker.

“I thought ‘whoa!’. I got a bid from a great team,’” said Nakajima, courtesy of Newman. “I still don’t know how it is going to turn out.” The article goes onto say that Nakajima is “highly motivated” to play in MLB (he asked to be posted last year, but his team said no), so the chances he won’t sign are low. He’s leaving the negotiations up to his agent, obviously. I think this whole situation is very interesting, just because it’s not your typical free agent negotiation and Nakajima probably expected to go to a team that would let him play everyday. The two sides have less than a month to bang out a contract.

Big thanks to Patrick for translating the article and quotes.

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