Friday, December 9, 2011

Who is Hiroyuki Nakajima

Lost amid all the news regarding such free agent signings of Jose Reyes, Mark Buerhle, CJ Wilson and Albert Pujols was that the New York Yankees had the winning bid for the right to negotiate with Saitama Seibu Lions SS Hiroyuki Nakajima. By the posting rules established between the Nippon Baseball League and Major League Baseball, the Yankees and representatives of Nakajima have thirty days in order to negotiate a contract. If they reach an agreement, then the Lions would receive the posting bid, which according to the Yakyu Baka website was approximately $2.5 million dollars. If an agreement cannot be reached between the team and the player, then the money put up by the Yankees will be returned to them and Nakajima’s rights would return to the Lions. Before I get into my impression of the Yankees bidding for Nakajima, let me go into who Hiroyuki Nakajima is.

As I stated earlier, Nakajima is a SS who plays for the Saitama Seibu Lions of the NPB’s Pacific League. He is a 10-year veteran who will turn thirty in July. He is a career .302 hitter with the Lions with 149 HRs and 664 RBI. His best season with the Lions was in 2009 when he batted .309 with 22 HRs and 92 RBI. In 560 at-bats, Nakajima had a career high 173 hits (31 2B/3 3B/22 HRs) with 113 strikeouts, 75 walks and 20 stolen bases (in 32 attempts) and scored 100 runs. Nakajima’s OPS was .891 (.398 OBP/.493 SLG). He won the Japan Series MVP award in 2008, was multiple time All-Star, won a Gold Glove in 2008 and in the same year was elected one of the Best Nine at the SS position (award voted on by journalists for the best player at each position). Nakajima also played for Japan in the 2009 World Baseball Classic where he batted .364 and .516 on-base percentage helping Japan repeat as World Baseball Classic Champions.

Some of you might be asking yourselves why would the Yankees bid on a SS when they have Derek Jeter signed up for the next two years (possibly a third year due to a player option). Apparently Yankees GM Brian Cashman believes that Nakajima would be a utility player since he was quoted as saying "He’s not a starter for us, but that doesn’t mean he’s not a starting player". Boston Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine vouches for Nakajima ability by saying the following: "He has excellent range to his left…He’s a very good low-ball hitter and a real dedicated player". It is believed that Nakajima would be an infield utility player with Eduardo Nunez.

So what does this mean for Nunez?
It seems that he is not as untouchable of a prospect that he once was. Nunez seemed to have some difficulties this past season especially in the field when Derek Jeter was on the DL with a calf injury. There have been rumors that the Yankees have been open to listening to trade offers including Nunez.

Will Nakajima accept a contract offer?
To be honest, I’m not sure. He is the Captain of the Lions and leaving Japan for a backup position might not be what he expected when he asked to be posted. Nakajima has not made any comments aside from extending thanks to the Yankees for their bid for his potential services preferring to leave the negotiations to his representatives. In the end, I think it will all come down to whether or not Nakajima’s desire to play in the MLB outweighs his desire to be an everyday player.

The dark horse in all this is the potential Yankee bid for Japanese pitcher Yu Darvish. Darvish and Nakajima are good friends and maybe the Yankees brass feel that by having Nakajima on the team, it might be easier to sign Darvish (if their bid is deemed to be the winning bid). This is all speculation on my part so take it for what it is worth.

We’ll know by January 6, 2012 whether or not Nakajima will be wearing Yankee Pinstripes.


For Further Reading:
- Click Here to access Hiroyuki Nakajima's career statistics from the Nippon Professional Baseball website
- Click Here to access David Waldstein's article Yankees Win Right to Negotiate With Japanese Shortstop from the New York Times Baseball Blog page dated December 7, 2011
- Click Here to access a number of articles written by Gen on the Yakyubaka website regarding the Yankees and Nakajima, various dates
- Click Here to access a chart detailing which Japanese players were posted, the posted bids and whether or not they were signed by Yakyubaka

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