Japanese Teams Starting to Sniff Around Bryan LaHair

Long a favorite of Japanese teams, late-blooming AAA/AAAA stars have frequently found themselves confronted with a difficult decision in their late 20s/early 30s – do I keep trying to “make it” in MLB, or do I cash in by playing for a few years in Japan while my body is still productive?

It’s not a decision I envy (well, actually, I guess I do), and it can’t be a particularly easy one for guys who have (1) grown up and played minor league ball for so many years dreaming only of that one chance to play in the bigs, and (2) have made peanuts along the way.

And it’s a decision that will soon face 28-year-old first baseman, Bryan LaHair.

According to scouting sources, numerous Japanese teams have been scouting and are prepared to make offers to LaHair, if he becomes a free agent following the 2011 season.

LaHair said he has had conversations with some representatives of Japanese baseball. If the Cubs keep him on their 40-man roster, however, he will continue to be under the team’s control.

There is some precedent of the Cubs allowing an Asian club to pursue one of their players. Former Cubs’ first baseman Micah Hoffpauir was sold to the Nippon Ham Fighters in the Japanese Pacific League in the fall of 2010 for $200,000. Hoffpauir then signed a two-year contract. He’s making $700,000 in 2011.

Although LaHair is intrigued by the interest from Japan, his heart is set on being a major league player.

“Not coming from a lot of money, when you hear offers, you have to consider it,” LaHair said. “But the dream is to be in the major leagues. And this is where I want to be.”

As Levine notes, Hoffpauir, as well as former Cubs Bobby Scales and Matt Murton, have made some green in Japan when their MLB futures failed to materialize to the level they’d hoped. It’s certainly not a decision anyone can criticize, and, for those three guys, I’m happy they’ve found success.

The Cubs’ decision on LaHair will be equally difficult. He’s shown he can play some passable outfield, so the Cubs may be more inclined to take a chance on him next Spring. To do that, though, they’ve got to keep him on the 40-man all Winter, which means one less spot with which to protect a potential prospect from the Rule Five Draft in December.

Even though the Cubs could wait until late in the year to make a decision on LaHair, if he’s already getting offers from Japanese teams, the Cubs may have to make a decision as soon as the new GM is in place. It’s not that the Cubs have to make a decision that soon, mind you. They could hold on to him as long as they want (and as long as he’s on the 40-man roster). But, that would be a pretty discourteous thing to do, and could risk LaHair’s future in Japan, assuming he doesn’t have one here.

It’s a bit of a tough spot to be in, not knowing what will happen to the roster over the Winter with trades and free agency. Striking that delicate balance between doing what’s best for the organization, and doing right by a guy like LaHair isn’t always possible. Sometimes you have to choose one or the other – though, I like to think that, when you do right by guys like LaHair, the intangible benefits to the organization pay off down the road.

Brett Taylor is the editor and lead writer at Bleacher Nation, and can also be found as Bleacher Nation on Twitter and on Facebook.

29 responses to “Japanese Teams Starting to Sniff Around Bryan LaHair”

  1. TWC

    Let’s trade LaHair to the Nippon Ham Fighters for one Hoffpauir and two Matt Murtons.

  2. Internet Random

    Take the sure thing, brother.  Best wishes and sayonara.

    (NB: I like what I’ve seen from this kid… and that’s the reason I want him to make sure he makes at least a little money at this game.)

    1. Ian Afterbirth

      Harry Caray kamakazi you won’t see another evening bye bye….

  3. EQ76

    Can we get a Scales, Murton, Hoffpauir and some Yen for a LaHair and a Zambrano?

    1. TWC

      Haw haw haw.  I WISH it was possible to trade Zambrano to a Japanese team.  That’d be just wonderful.

      1. Fishin Phil

        That would be hilarious.  He would fit in like a nun in a nudist colony.

  4. Baseballet

    “It’s a bit of a tough spot to be in, not knowing what will happen to the roster over the Winter with trades and free agency. ”

    Brett it’s not a tough spot at all, it’s a no-brainer.  LaHair has been the Cubs’ best minor league bat for a full season.  The Cubs should absolutely keep him because they don’t have any other major league-ready bats in the minors, except for Brett Jackson.  That 40-man protected list isn’t exactly star studded from top to bottom.  I’m certain there’s space on it for the Cubs’ best power hitter under 30 years old.

    1. Madprizamwoo

      Amen!!! Keep LaHair for one year and see what happens. Chances of losing someone in the rule 5 draft aren’t high anyways. So let the LaHair play and save some $ at the same time.

      1. Cheryl

        Amen!!! But don’t keep him if all you are going to do is put him on the bench. He deserves more than that. He deserves a real shot at being an everyday player.

        1. dreese

          Amen!!!

    2. Mike

      Be wary when your “best minor league hitter” is 28 years old.

      1. Toosh

        As compared to the Cubs’ other suspects, I mean “prospects”, who always seem to be “just a couple of years away”.

  5. BFM

    Contact the Japanese and let Lahair go.
    We’ll even throw in Quade and Riggins at no extra charge!

  6. philoe beddoe

    so we have such good prospects that we are farm team for the Nippon Ham Fighters?

    we constantly hear in the news of the United States’ trade imbalance with China, how about the Cubs trade imbalance with Japan?

    we get Fukudome for 48 million and they get murton, hoffpair, and now maybe LaHair?

    now that MacPhail is gone from Baltimore, Tony Campana is no longer a future-Oriole but more likely a future Seibu Lion.

    1. Baseballet

      “we constantly hear in the news of the United States’ trade imbalance with China, how about the Cubs trade imbalance with Japan?

      we get Fukudome for 48 million and they get murton, hoffpair, and now maybe LaHair?”

      Classic!

    2. Siquo

      Well, actually only Hoffpauir is playing with the Nippon Ham Fighters (who have good season by the way), Murton is with the Hanshin Tigers (last year post-season, this season, not so great).

  7. JulioZuleta

    Where’s the love for me?

    1. JulioZuleta

      I thought we were cool, Brett. You mention a Bobby Scales before the original “Big Z”

  8. TSB

    If Quade is still around (ha!), or someone like him, La Hair should go to Japan; he will not have a fair shot with the Cubs. If new management is around, stick around, you may make it.

    1. Cheryl

      I agree. He has nothing left to prove in the minors. If Quade somehow sticks with the cubs next year the rookies won’t have a chance, And if somehow LaHair is left off the 40 man roster he should go elsewhere, even if it’s to Japan.

      1. philoe beddoe

        “if Quade somehow sticks with the Cubs”………….5 things more likely to happen

        5.  laughter at a Lovie Smith news conference

        4.  seeing a “Tea Party for Obama” yard sign

        3. Soriano gold glove winner

        2.  A White Sox loss that is not the umpires fault(according to Hawk Harrelson)

        1.  Casey Coleman Cy Young

         

  9. Nomar's Left Glove

    He’s 28 not 38. I understand that he may not be a permanent solution for years to come, but for the next year or two, he may be the best solution without an astronomical multi-year deal.