Hiroyuki Nakajima: Sign-and-Trade Possibilities

On Tuesday, we took a look at the New York Yankees surprise acquisition of SS Hiroyuki Nakajima via a $2.5M positing bid — the lowest bid for a position player since 2000. Now, it sounds increasingly likely that the Yankees will explore trades for the 29-year-old infielder.

According to Ken Rosenthal, the Chicago Cubs and the San Francisco Giants are both interested in Nakajima, and — frankly — I am surprised there are not even more teams rather interested in one of Japan’s best hitting shortstops.

Rosenthal got some quotes from a rival scout that are somewhat illuminating on the defensive makeup of Nakajima:

“This kid wants to play baseball,” the scout said. “He’s not going to take Jeter’s place, but he’s capable of being an everyday shortstop in the big leagues.”

The scout projects Nakajima as a .270-.280 hitter who will drive in runs and use his instincts to steal bases, despite being a below-average runner. He lacks arm strength at short, but has great hands, very good range to his left and hangs in on the double play, the scout said.

So does Nakajima fit with the Cubs or Giants?

Currently, the Cubs have one of the league’s best young shortstops in Starlin Castro. He has been a nightmare defensively, but at the stupid-young age of 22 (as of next March), there is still time for his glove to catch his bat. Clearly Nakajima does not fit at short unless the Cubs are willing to shift Castro to second, which I HIGHLY doubt they are.

Where the Cubs do have a space for improvement is at second base, however. Darwin Barney deserves credit for being one of the first good, homegrown defensive specialists in the Cubs system for a long time, but that does not make him a starting second baseman for a winning team. In all fairness, Barney may be around a 2.0 WAR true talent player — good enough to start on many teams in the league — but given their veritable logjam of big-contract outfielders, the Cubs may find themselves willing to shift Barney into a super-utility role (a role to which he could be well suited, given he learned second base in one winter after playing shortstop literally 95.5% of his minor league games).

Could Nakajima be a significant upgrade over Barney? It’s hard to say. The scouting report above mentions a weak arm, which usually sends shortstops to second eventually, but the rest of his fielding skills sound above average to excellent.

Could he be an above average second baseman? Probably. Could he be an exceptional second baseman who hits, fields, and runs well? There’s a chance.

Last year, the Giants employed a quartet of infielders at the shortstop position: Mike Fontenot, Orlando Cabrera, Miguel Tejada, and top prospect Brandon Crawford. More than likely, Crawford, the strong-fielding, not-hitting shortstop prospect, is penciled in as the 2012 starting shortstop for the Giants. The ceiling for Crawford, though, may be low enough to give him another year at Triple-A to see if he can improve with the bat, making Nakajima a possible fit there.

If not, the Giants also have Freddy Sanchez poised to play second after missing nearly 100 games in 2011 with a shoulder injury. San Francisco has Sanchez’s services for at least one more year, but if they are willing to pay their backup infielder $6M, it is not hard to envision Nakajima being an upgrade there — especially given Sanchez’s recent injury.

Clearly both the Giants and Cubs — at least those two teams; not to mention the Rays (who probably would not deal with the Yankees anyway) and Brewers — could find regular jobs for Nakajima. The question that remains, then, concerns cost.

The Yankees paid a crazy low price to negotiate with Nakajima (see below), and if they cannot get a contract in place (and the promise of a subsequent trade may pave the way for that), then the Yankees do not have to pay anything. So there’s little to lose for them. They can either they sign Nakajima and make him their backup, or the Yanks could just say the negotiations broke down. From what I’ve heard, the Yankees were thinking 2 years at $4M — a paltry sum for a guy with this much potential.

So, the leverage for a trade is all on the Yankees’ side — if Nakajima falls through, they can just grab Eric Chavez again. If the Yankees are not asking for too much, Nakajima could be a much better fit somewhere else.

NOTE: I have updated my chart and graph from the previous post to reflect the absence of Kei Igawa. From what I’m hearing, expect Yu Darvish to ruin the scaling of that final graph.

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Bradley writes for FanGraphs and The Hardball Times. Follow him on Twitter @BradleyWoodrum.

25 Responses to “Hiroyuki Nakajima: Sign-and-Trade Possibilities”

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  1. Shawn says:

    I wish the braves would get involved. While we may have pastornicky waiting in the wings, this would at least give us a talented option to have if we did trade prado off. I am sure this guy will offer more than a keppinger or cedeno.

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    • peachesnnuts says:

      This was my first thought too. Atlanta needs a stopgap/backup SS anyway, why not Pastornicky hit in AAA until the (now later) Super 2 date and see what this guy is. Right now it would cost next to nothing to get him from the yankees.

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  2. Evan says:

    I couldn’t believe the Giants didn’t bid on Nakajima. They’re being so frustratingly conservative with money this offseason, it can mean a few things:

    -They’re trying to save every last cent so they can afford both Lincecum and Cain.

    -Now that Neukom’s gone, the ownership group’s main focus is on lining their pockets.

    -The Zito/Rowand contracts, park debt service, and higher revenue-sharing payments have hamstrung the budget.

    I don’t know. Just another Giants fan disillusioned by this offseason so far and wouldn’t mind seeing Nakajima up the middle in 2012.

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  3. Whelk says:

    If Brignac doesn’t bounce back, Beckham can’t hit at the majors, and Nakajima can, I’m going to feel pretty sad as a Rays fan that we didn’t get in on him at this price.

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  4. Yirmiyahu says:

    How can the Yankees trade him? You can’t trade a newly-signed free agent until

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    • Perceptron says:

      He wasn’t a free agent. I guess the rules are different for posted players.

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    • Info says:

      I believe you can trade the rights to a player for whom you’ve won the posting bid before signing him to a deal. I could be wrong though.

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    • reillocity says:

      If that’s in fact true, you’d probably see the Pomeranz scenario in play. The Yankees would acquire a player from another club in exchange for a player to be named who just happens to already be named Hiroyuki Nakajima, and Nakajima would go work out with that franchise’s instructional league team until the deadline passes, at which point he’d be formally announced as the player to be named later. Either that or the Yankees might decide that they like Nakajima as their starting shortstop and probably just trade Jeter to Tampa.

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  5. Perceptron says:

    Presumably, if the Yankees signed and traded Nakajima, they would still be responsible for the posting fee. Then they would need to be compensated both for Nakajima and the posting fee. Thus either the receiving teams pays the posting fee along with his contract, or they have to trade even more than Nakajima worth alone.

    Assuming teams like the Giants and Cubs are interested, where were they when Nakajima was posted? If they bid on him but a lesser amount than $2.5M, then I doubt they would give proper value for Nakajima.

    If I was the Yankees, I would only trade Nakajima for a B prospect or something along those lines. In other words, I would expect to be compensated fairly handsomely for him. If not, and you don’t want to pay ~$6.5 for a utility player (which in this market isn’t too bad), don’t bother signing him.

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  6. njh says:

    If no team thought that Nakajima was worth a 2 million dollar posting fee, then I can’t see how the Yankees recoup that much value in a trade.

    Unless of course some team has changed their opinion of him, or they refrained from bidding in the first place only because they thought they would not win.

    If the Cubs or Gaints wanted Nakajima they would have bid SOMETHING on him, right?

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  7. Raf says:

    After signing Alex Gonzalez, I don’t think the Brewers would be in play.

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  8. Eric R says:

    As I understand it, the Posting team is not obligated to take the highest bid. Is it possible that some other team(s) had higher bids that the Yankees and the Lions opted for the Yankees figuring them as a better bet to get the player signed?

    He made about $3.6M last year; put 21 year old Hideto Asamura in as the starter in his place…

    If they figure the Yankees have a 95% chance of signing him [given their resources and budget, even an unreasonable demand is practically nothing to them], then $2.5M posting plus ~$3.3M in roster savings is $5.8M in net savings; times 95% [to adjust for the chance that he isn’t signed and goes back on their roster] and you are at $5.5M

    If the Giants/Cubs/Rays had bid ~$5M, but the Lions figured those as more like 50/50, then to them, with the risk of getting the player back, those deals were only worth $4.2M to them.

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  9. Art says:


    The bids are submitted to MLB’s commissioner’s office, which then submits the highest bid to the Japanese team. So they would never even be aware of the other teams who submitted bids.

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  10. Eric R says:

    I read the following on the previous thread on fangraphs:

    John C. says:
    December 13, 2011 at 11:36 am
    Actually, the posting fee is returned if no deal is reached. What prevents this from happening is that the Japanese team receiving the blind bids gets to decide which one wins. I other words, there is no obligation to award the negotiating rights to the highest bidder if the Japanese team does not believe the highest bid was made in good faith.

    Does anyone have concrete info on which is the case?

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  11. Harry says:

    Padres are in need of middle infielder with line drive swing and speed. Sounds like it could take only AA player and cash. Whats taking so long?

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