See you guys at game time. Good night.
The New York Yankees have won the right to negotiate with Seibu Lions shortstop Hiroyuki Nakajima with a 2 million dollar winning bid, and now a billion questions surround the utility infield position for the Yankees. The 29 year old slugger from Japan hit .297 last year for the Lions with 16 homers and 100 RBI’s along with 21 steals. Nakajima has good power to all fields and is labeled as a line-drive hitter. He has a slight uppercut in his swing that amplifies his power and he does hit occasional opposite field homeruns. However, he has a tendency to fall into pull-happy mode and major league pitchers may expose that with a steady diet of breaking balls off the plate. A sensible projection for Nakajima (as an everyday player) would be around .260 with 9-12 homeruns and anywhere from 15-20 steals. A good MLB comparison would be Marco Scutaro with more power and speed but less patience. He may get a larger share of doubles than homers because he takes advantages of gaps.
The majority of scouts expressed concern about Nakajima’s projection in the majors and many of them believe he would be a good utility player since he projects better as a second baseman than a shortstop. Defensively, Nakajima is the anti-Jeter. Unlike Jeter, he does well on balls up the middle but struggles on balls hit in the shortstop hole. With a move off the turf, he might have better reaction skills playing on grass where the ball slows down a bit. His arm strength is solid and it’s plenty enough to play third base, shortstop, or second base. He also has a very vibrant personality which will help him transition better in the majors as well. His Lions teammates loved his character and if the Yankees can sign him they will also be pleased with his demeanor on and off the field. With Alex Rodriguez a near lock to miss time next year, he could get his opportunities at third base. Prior to Kazuo Matsui leaving the Lions for the Mets, he did play third base so he has experience. His range to the left hand side and arm strength might translate well there, even though second is ideal.
From a Yankee standpoint, this move can mean a lot of things. The Yankees could be thinking about the future at shortstop and demote Eduardo Nunez back to AAA so that he can work on his defense and fine tune his game for 2013. That would make sense because shuffling Nunez around the infield has proved detrimental to his defensive progression. This move could also signal a deal this offseason involving Eduardo Nunez, and teams have expressed a lot of interest in the young shortstop. Could the Yankees revisit a Jair Jurrjens trade? Or will Nunez be packaged for another starter? The asking prices are sky high for starters and any deal would involve much more than Nunez so it still seems like a slim chance that the Yankees move Nunez in a package for a starter. Perhaps it would be better for the team to send Nunez back to AAA to develop a consistent game.
Another theory regarding the Nakajima bid is that that the team might be putting their chips in for Japanese phenom Yu Darvish. Darvish has yet to be posted but the Yankees are heavily interested in the young right hander. With a Japanese player on the roster, it might be easier to convince Darvish to make the move to the majors and the adjustment period will be much less with another NPB player who also made the move in the same year. Nakajima’s outgoing personality will also help Darvish acclimate to New York much faster as well. The Yankees were witnesses to the isolation that Kei Igawa and Hideki Irabu went through in New York and they might be thinking ahead. Cashman will play it down till the very end so we will never truly know until that unnamed source confirms it.
Update 2:55pm EST : Two Yankee scouts believe the Yankees were surprised to win the bid at just 2 million dollars. Most of the projections had the bids reaching anywhere from 5 to 7 million. Maybe the Yankees were just putting in their two cents. There is also some hesitation from Nakajima to play on the East Coast but multiple sources say this won't be a major issue or holdup.
Update 8:39pm EST: There are some concerns that Nakajima may not accept the offer from the Yankees. He made around 3.6 million last season and the Yankees will are unlikely to offer that much money to a utility infielder with no MLB experience. However, Nakajima has a strong desire to play in the MLB and that may convince him to accept a smaller deal from the Yankees to play in the States.