With mediocre scouting reports, Sox offer Tazawa a deal

Yankee fans these days are a predictable bunch. As soon as the Red Sox do something — anything — they flip out and, of course, blame Brian Cashman.

Case in point: Last night, word got out that the Red Sox may have offered Junichi Tazawa a contract. The deal is rumored to be a $3 million for three years.

In response, a RAB commenter Bryan left this gem:

I cant believe that the Yanks didn’t offer Junichi Tazawa a contract, now MLB rumors is speculating that he has already decided on the sox. It seems stupid that we should miss out on a 22 year old just because Cashman has some moral issue with the Japanese league! I tell you one thing, we better get Yu Darvish when posting time is up.

It is hard to believe that Cashman should shoulder the blame for the fact that the Red Sox are the first team to offer Tazawa a contract. Never mind the fact that the Yankees could still get involved. Never mind the fact that the Red Sox haven’t actually done anything. And never mind the fact that Tazawa might not even be that good.

Wait a sec, you might be saying. Isn’t the bunch on Tazawa that he’s supposed to be some Major League-ready 22-year-old stud? Not quite.

Over the weekend, Jim Allen, a Japan-based sportswriter who has actually, you know, seen these guys pitch, offered up some scouting reports on the less-than-impressive Japanese free agents, including Tazawa. He hardly had impressive things to say about the youngster:

Tazawa, who stands 5 feet, 10 inches — “5-11 if you really like him,” Wilson said — will get a major league deal this winter but is unlikely to make it to the majors during that first season.

He has good command of his fastball and slurve, but he lacks velocity, stamina and the ability to keep the ball down. The talk of a deal worth as much as $4 million is testimony not to Tazawa’s talent, but to the soaring appreciation of Japan’s game…The right-hander would have gone in the first round of Nippon Professional Baseball’s recent draft, but that is a long way from being ready for the majors.

At 22, Tazawa is unlikely to throw much harder than he does now; his fastball barely tops 90 mph when he is rested, and he struggled to hit 88 mph at the end of last season. In Class A or Double-A, Tazawa likely will get hit harder and harder as the season wears on.

Because he knows what he’s doing against corporate league hitters here, there is a chance Tazawa will make adjustments, although [Isao] Ojimi is a skeptic. The Mets scout believes the pitcher’s body is too stiff to allow him to keep the ball down in the zone and Tazawa lacks the smarts and toughness to hang in and learn the lessons needed to apply his talent in the majors.

For what it’s worth, East Windup Chronicle, another on-the-scenes site, echoes Allen’s less-than-glowing endorsement.

So there you have it; a few writers who actually have seen Tazawa pitch aren’t that impressed. He frankly sounds like another Kei Igawa to me who will be in way over his head in the minors. Japan’s industrial league is a far, far cry from the Majors.

As the Hot Stove heats up, we can’t lose sight of objectivity. If Cashman isn’t too keen on ruining the Yanks’ relationships with the other Japanese teams, perhaps it’s because the potential free agent just isn’t that good, and when writers on the scene say that, I’m inclined to believe them.

Open Thread: The ethics of recruiting Japanese players

Junichi Tazawa, the 22-year-old amateur free agent, is creating something of an international incident between the Japanese and American baseball leagues. Some teams from Japan are irked that Major League teams seem to be so heavily invested in landing the highly-touted right-hander.

In The Times today, Alan Schwarz and Brad Lefton covered the issue:

Many Japanese baseball officials are outraged that United States teams are courting Tazawa, a hard-throwing right-handed pitcher, because they insist it is long-established practice for amateurs like him to be strictly off limits to major league clubs. Even some American general managers, including the Yankees’ Brian Cashman, agree.

Major League Baseball officials maintain that the letter of their protocol agreement with their Japanese counterparts, Nippon Professional Baseball, does not forbid either league from courting amateur talent from the other’s nation. When one Japanese representative characterized the rule as a gentlemen’s agreement during a meeting in New York, he was angrily rebutted by a Major League Baseball official, according to two attendees.

The Tazawa dispute extends beyond one pitching phenom and an interpretation of honor. The Japanese major leagues have already seen established stars leave for American clubs, and amateurs following Tazawa’s path away from those leagues could further hurt the leagues’ long-term viability.

As the Tazawa dispute has brewed this offseason, NPB officials released a statement on it: “This was more than just a gentlemen’s agreement, but rather an implicit understanding that the major leagues would do no such thing. That a handful of clubs from the majors is trying to break this gentlemen’s agreement is truly regrettable.”

As Schwarz and Lefton offer up an overview of the situation — including the typical glowing scouting reports on Tazawa — they bring the issue back home to New York:

Officials of major league teams have a wide spectrum of views as to whether Tazawa should be signed…The Yankees’ Cashman was unequivocal.

“I’m old school — there has been an understanding,” said Cashman, whose team has a formal cooperative relationship with the Yomiuri Giants, a team particularly upset with the Tazawa affair. “There’s been a reason that Japanese amateurs haven’t been signed in the past, so we consider him hands off.”

So my question is this: What do you think of Cashman’s stance? The Yankees have some deep-rooted economic and baseball interests in Japan. It behooves the team’s bottom line to keep the NPB officials happy. In all likelihood, the Yanks will benefit in the long-term by respecting this gentleman’s agreement.

But what about Tazawa? Should the Yanks forego this stance to pursue young, amateur free agents who aren’t explicitly breaking a rule but are simply exploiting a free market? I’d probably say no. It’s far better to keep things amicable between the Yanks and Japan, but maybe others see things differently.

So feel free to discuss this issue. I find it a fascinating one as baseball explores an international expansion of the game.

If you don’t feel like talking about this topic, use this thread as the evening’s Open Thread. Anything goes. Just keep it civil.

Open Thread: The Next Big Import

Via the Worldwide Leader, we learn that Junichi Tazawa is now a free agent. While the Japanese Leagues have recently tightened the rules about players heading to the U.S., nothing prevents teams from signing amateur free agents. The bidding war will not involve a posting fee.

So then attention this off-season will turn to Tazawa. He is a 22 year old with a high-90s fastball and some very good breaking pitchers, according to scouting reports. Early rumors indicate that he will draw plenty of interest from the usual suspects of MLB teams with the Red Sox and Yankees leading the pack.

As we while away the days until free agency, let’s speculate on Japan. The Yankees have gotten burned on Japan recently with Kei Igawa, but he didn’t come with nearly the same level of hype as Tazawa. The Yanks have also seen their rival Red Sox land an overhyped but pretty good pitcher in Daisuke Matsuzaka. What then do you do here?

Should the Yanks pursue Junichi Tazawa within reason? Are we too afraid of the Kei Igawa/Hideki Irabu vortex of overhyped Japanese pitchers?

It would be pretty unprecedented for a young Japanese pitcher to start his career in the Majors, and it sounds like Tazawa has the goods to make a go of it. But as the saying goes, “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.”