The Yankees Got Hiroryuki Nakajima, Got Him Cheap

Last week, we heard the official word that the New York Yankees had acquired negotiation rights to Japanese infielder Hiroyuki Nakajima. In order for teams to win rights to negotiate with players leaving Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB) league, they must participate in a silent auction called the posting system. The winning bid goes to the NPB team currently in control of the player’s rights, unless the team cannot sign a major or minor league contract in 30 days.

The Nakajima posting seemed to go by with little fanfare. The Yankees won the rights to negotiate with Nakajima, bidding a paltry $2.5M, and promptly announced their intentions to make him their second utility infielder.

To me, it seems pretty clear the Yankees had no expectations of actually winning the bid. Not only do they lack a position for Nakajima, they have already been rumored to be seeking a trade partner. On top of that, their bid was low. I mean: Seriously low:

In the history of the posting system, only one other position player is known to have received a lower bid, and that was for a minor leaguer in the very first posting ever:

Player Pos Year  Posting Fee  Team
Daisuke Matsuzaka SP 2006  $               51.0 Red Sox
Hisashi Iwakuma  SP 2010  $               19.1 Dodgers
Ichiro Suzuki RF 2000  $               13.0 Mariners
Kazuhisa Ishii SP 2002  $               11.6 Mets
Tsuyoshi Nishioka SS 2010  $                 5.0 Twins
Akinori Iwamura 3B 2006  $                 4.5 Rays
Hiroyuki Nakajima SS 2011  $                 2.5 Yankees
Shinji Mori RP 2005  $                 0.8 Rays
Alejandro Diaz OF 1999  $                 0.4 Reds
Ramón Ramírez RP 2003  $                 0.4 Yankees
Akinori Otsuka RP 2003  $                 0.3 Padres
Norihiro Nakamura 3B 2005  ?  Dodgers
Timo Perez OF 1999  $                       N/A
Yusaku Iriki RP 2002  $                       N/A
Koji Mitsui SP 2008  $                       N/A

NOTE: Nobody knows, from what I have researched, exactly how much the Dodgers paid for Norihiro Nakamura in 2005. The other three players did not get bids at all.

So, the Yankees did not need Nakajima — and by the sounds of it, they may not get him either. The Yankees are expected to offer something in the range of 2-years at a total value of $4M. If that doesn’t insult Nakajima right back to Japan, then the Yankees may end up with a rather impressive second utility man.

“P-shaw,” say detractors. “We have seen how ‘good’ Japanese infielders are — Tsuyoshi Nishioka stunk worse than the Twins in 2011, a stench which got the neighbors worried about there being something dead in rafters at Target Field.”

Okay, first of all, Nishioka broke his leg like thirty seconds into the regular season. Secondly, I don’t think Target Field even has rafters.

When Nishioki finally did come back — come back from his major injury, that is — he only got 240 PAs. If 240 PAs showed true talent levels, then we would have very little need for projection systems, BABIP, or Tom “Regress that S***” Tango.

“Okay, maybe Hiroyuki Nakajima was a great hitter in Japan, but even his numbers there were pretty aweful before being posted.”

Let’s look:

Year   Age  PA HR SB   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS
2007    24 593 12  9 .300 .361 .439 .801
2008    25 556 21 25 .331 .410 .527 .937
2009    26 648 22 20 .309 .398 .493 .891
2010    27 579 20 15 .314 .385 .511 .896
2011    28 633 16 21 .297 .354 .433 .787

The raw stats clearly show Nakajima’s hitting took a step back in 2011. But the context explains a lot.

Those who follow the NPB closely will know the league tried out a new standardized baseball this year — it’s supposedly smaller, smoother, and in all ways reviled by hitters.

Only two players hit over 30 homers this season. In 2010, eight hitters were over 30 dingers. The league-wide OPS dropped from about .740 to .660.

Taken in that regard, we realize Nakajima’s .787 OPS is actually about a 119 OPS+ in 2011 — which is down from his 130ish OPS+ in 2010, but still good enough for about 15th best in the league.

So, Japan’s 15th best hitter in 2011 — oh, who happens to be a shortstop — is coming to America. Who wants a piece? A shrugging Yankees organization raises a hand, looking around the room.

Apparently no one needs a shortstop or even a second baseman. Apparently Tampa Bay is fine with Sean Rodriguez and Reid Brignac subparring their way into starting PAs. Apparently Chicago figures Darwin Barney will learn how to walk sometime in the future. Apparently the aged Alex Gonzalez is enough for the Brewers — who are recovering from Yunitis. Does Nakajima really have less potential impact than Ian Desmond? I mean, come on St. Louis. You would rather keep the Ryan Theriot Tunnel of TOOTBLAN operational?

If the Yankees do in fact hammer out a contract with Nakajima — and, remember, there is a chance they do not — then it behooves not only them but another team to find a suitable trade. As a second utility infielder, Nakajima is not going to get nearly the PAs his abilities deserve. But, as a starter somewhere, he may yet be a major bargain.

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10 years ago

I think he could be great Zack Cozart/Scott Rolen insurance in Cincinnati. The Reds are looking for a guy who can play shortstop, and he would beat the hell out of the Orlando Cabrera, Paul Janish, and Edgar Renteria trials of years past.