Ken Rosenthal reports that the the Cubs have interest in Japanese middle infielder, Hiroyuki Nakajima. So, are we in for another posting process?
Nope. Nakajima’s post already happened, and the Yankees won the rights.
Apparently, however, the Yankees are considering signing Nakajima and then trading him, in part because Nakajima would prefer a starting job, and, on the Yankees, he wouldn’t have that opportunity.
You’re probably wondering what I first wondered: if the Cubs really wanted Nakajima, why didn’t they just bid on him?
Well, maybe they did. The Yankees won the post with a $2.5 million bid, and we don’t presently have any reason to be certain that the Cubs didn’t bid a lesser amount.
The 29-year-old Nakajima is primarily a shortstop with excellent hands and good range, but his limited arm strength might suit him better to second base.
Nakajima’s numbers in Japan have been quite good, especially for a middle infielder, as he’s averaged about a .310/.380/.500 line. How would those numbers translate in the States? Extrapolating is never a perfect science, but we can make an educated guess.
A quick comparison could be someone like Akinori Iwamura, who put up similar numbers in Japan at a similar age (Nakajima’s are slightly better across the board). After coming to the States, Iwamura’s numbers dropped dramatically, as is typically the case in the transition – his average, which had hovered around .300 in Japan, fell to the .285 range in his first three years in the bigs; his OBP, which had been around .370, fell to about .350; and his SLG, which had been around .540, fell to just .400.
So, while it would be fair to expect a .270/.280 average and a .350/.360 OPB for Nakajima, which would be fine, that SLG is going to fall dramatically.
If Nakajima could put up that kind of line over the next year or two, he could easily supplant Darwin Barney as the primary second baseman, which would allow Barney to slide into a utility role (the Cubs do need a back-up shortstop), or be made available in trade.
But what would Nakajima cost in trade? Hard to say. For one thing, I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that the Yankees – who have 30 days from December 7 to sign Nakajima – are going to wait to actually sign him until a trade is already agreed to. In that case, it’s hard to see them getting much more than their posting fee in return from the trading team. Maybe a prospect to grease the wheels. Or, the Yankees could say that they’ll eat the posting fee in exchange for a better player or prospect, essentially “buying” a $2.5 million player or prospect.
Nakajima is a true free agent in Japan after next year, though, so I can’t see a team giving up a great deal to acquire him in a pre-arranged deal with the Yankees when they could simply wait a year and sign him for only the price of a contract.