By Jason Wojciechowski on December 17, 2012 at 8:50 PM
The A's have signed a free agent and that free agent is not intended to platoon at designated hitter or be the fifth starter until he gets suspended or catch every fifth day when Derek Norris needs a rest. No, the A's signed a free agent to play every day at an up the middle position. Isn't that exciting?
Now comes the part where I undermine the first paragraph by pointing out how A's-like the signing is after all: the player is Hiroyuki Nakajima and he is a Japanese free agent who is going to be paid $6.5 million over two years (as in $6.5 million total, not each year), with a team option for a third year at a slightly elevated rate ($5.5 million). Nakajima was posted by his Japanese team, the Seibu Lions, last year, and the Yankees won the bidding with a $2 million entry, but failed (?) to sign him.
There's a certain amount of me that says "well, that's what you need to know, isn't it?" A significant amount of me, in fact. A's fans would love to dream on a two-win (as in wins above replacement) shortstop who can play solid defense and get on base and bring a wee bit of pop to the table, but good gracious, how many teams don't dream of that?
Here's a list of teams who got little from their shortstops last year and what they decided to do about it this season:
Boston: sign Stephen Drew for just shy of $10 million
Toronto: trade for Jose Reyes
Chicago (AL): hope that Alexei Ramirez bounces back to his age-29-level hitting
Detroit: pray that Jhonny Peralta finds a fountain of youth
Kansas City: wonder where Alcides Escobar's defense went
Minnesota: keep on losin'
Seattle: ask Brendan Ryan to hit like a human being instead of a monster who hates bunnies
Atlanta: play Andrelton Simmons all season
Cincinnati: twiddle their thumbs
Milwaukee: acquire Jean Segura for Zack Greinke
Pittsburgh: are they still in the league?
Arizona: get Cliff Pennington
Colorado: sacrifice virgins to keep Troy Tulowitzki from getting hurt
Los Angeles: believe in the power of belief that Hanley Ramirez can play short
How many legit solutions is that? If the league generally thought Nakajima was going to be an average player, how many teams would have been interested in him? I'd count: Dodgers (Hanley to third), Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Seattle, and Minnesota. And I'd throw Boston in there, too, because given what they're paying Drew, I'd guess they're expecting him to be about a league-average shortstop, too. That the two shortstops signed on the same day and for significantly different sums tells me that the league, or at least the A's and the Red Sox, view the players differently.
Are the A's and the Red Sox right? Who knows. Do they know a whole hell of a lot more than we do? Good gracious, yes. I've seen a YouTube of Nakajima's 2012 homers and some Nippon Professional Baseball stats. That's what I'm going on. Which is to say: nothing. And from nothing I make nothing except hope.
Well, not nothing, I guess, because I think we can set the floor of what the A's expect as something above a reasonable projection for Adam Rosales or Eric Sogard or Andy Parrino or ouch Grant Green moved back to short or Josh Horton or I don't even know. For context: the Bill James projections, hilarious as they sometimes are, have Rosales at .248/.307/.388 next year. The bar is not set terribly high.
The CBS Sports story says:
It's worth noting here that A's general manager Billy Beane made a nice snag in international free agency last season, when he added Cuban import Yoenis Cespedes, who was runner-up in AL Rookie of the Year voting behind Mike Trout of the Angels.
It actually isn't.
An A.N. fanpost has a guess for Nakajima's stats based on hope.
Tamara Davis found a really neat photo of Nakajima on Flickr and notes his career line.