Nakajima and the sign-and-trade possibility

(Donald Miralle/Getty Images)

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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Yanks talking to Nakajima, but not close to deal

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.

Nakajima speaks about Yankees winning negotiating rights

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.

Yankees win bidding for Japanese shortstop Hiroyuki Nakajima

Nakajima during the 2009 World Baseball Classic. (Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

12:18pm ET: The Yankees have won the bidding according to Ken Rosenthal, and the two sides now have 30 days to negotiate a contract. Jon Heyman says the bid was approximately $2M, which is nothing. The bids for fellow infielders Akinori Iwamura and Tsuyoshi Nishioka were $4.5M and $5.3M, respectively. They then agreed to three-year contracts worth $7.7M and $9M with the Rays and Twins. Iwamura was posted during the 2006-2007 offseason, Nishioka last winter.

Rosenthal says that Nakajima strongly prefers to the play on the West Coast, so it might be tough for the Yankees to convince him to be their utility guy.

12:01pm ET: Via David Waldstein, the Yankees have placed a bid for Japanese shortstop Hiroki Nakajima, who they apparently like as a utility guy. Given the trade interest in Eduardo Nunez, I suppose landing Nakajima would make it easier for them to deal the incumbent utility man. Nakajima’s posting period ended on Saturday, though the high bid has not been announced.

I don’t know much about Nakajima, but last year NPB Tracker called him the second best hitter in Japan. The 29-year-old right-handed batter 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. From what I can tell, he’s played shortstop exclusively over the last four or five years. Here’s his Under Armour commercial, which is seriously the best video I can find.

Should the Yankees win the bid, the question will then focus on Nakajima’s willingness to be a bench guy right smack in the prime of his career. He did ask to be posted last year but was rebuffed by the Lions, so he’s been thinking about coming stateside for a while. Is he willing to do so as a utility guy? I guess there’s nothing we can do other than wait.