The Yankees know what they’re getting into with Hiroyuki Nakajima. Of course there’s a chance his Japanese success won’t translate, but the Yankees have been watching him for several years. He was Japan’s shortstop in the 2008 Olympics and the 2009 World Baseball Classic. He’s been the captain of the Seibu Lions, and this year he hit .297 with 16 homers and 100 RBIs this season. Brian Cashman called him a “high character” guy.
Based on a few conversations today, here’s what I know about Nakajima: He knows how to manage the strike zone, he’s shown flashes of power, and he’s athletic enough to move around the infield. Cashman didn’t pretend he’s a superior defender, but said he can play shortstop, third base and second base.
“It’s an area for us to pursue talent,” Cashman said. “It’s having access to a middle-of-the-diamond type player, and in this game, that’s becoming rarer and rarer on a yearly basis… He’s not a starter for us. That doesn’t mean he’s not a starting player, but we have players that are better than him that are signed.”
Cashman agreed with Joe Girardi that there could be room on the big league roster for both Nakajima and Eduardo Nunez.
A few things to remember…
• The Yankees only pay the posting fee if they actually sign Nakajima. If he doesn’t agree to terms the Yankees find acceptable, they can move on, no harm done.
• The CBA restricts future international spending. This might be a good time to spend a relatively small amount of money on a depth move like this.
• Shortstop is a fairly thin spot in the Yankees system. Beyond Nunez, the Yankees have Ramiro Pena — who’s obviously limited with the bat — but they don’t have another touted shortstop prospect remotely close to the big leagues. Next closest is probably Cito Culver, who still hasn’t played in a full-season league.
• Nunez can play the outfield, and that adds some flexibility. If Nakajima fills the Eric Chavez role, the Yankees would still have room on their bench for a third catcher, a fourth outfielder and Nunez. Not saying that’s going to happen, just saying that would be enough for the Yankees to be covered with two backups at every position.
So what’s next?
The Yankees have until January 6 to negotiate a deal. Cashman wouldn’t guarantee a spot on the big league roster, but it seems clear — especially given his age — that the Yankees believe he has the potential to immediately help at the big league level.
“The purpose of this process was not for a sign-and-trade,” Cashman said. “I don’t even know if we can or can’t do that. If we sign him, we plan on adding his talents to this franchise, going to big-league camp and seeing where it takes us.”
Associated Press photo