A Possible Option at Second Base

Friday, November 25 2011 @ 04:33 PM EST

Contributed by: Thomas

With Jamey Carroll signing with Minnesota, Mark Ellis signing with the Dodgers, Aaron Hill returning to Arizona and the Jays looking increasingly likely to let Kelly Johnson go elsewhere and gain picks in return, the options at second base are shrinking. Some of the biggest names still left in free agency include Orlando Cabrera, Aaron Miles, Ramon Santiago and Nick Punto. With that list of less inspiring names, the suggestion has been the Jays will try to acquire a second baseman through trade with Brandon Phillips being a rumoured target. However, there may be one option at second base that we arenít discussing.

Earlier this month, after prolonged discussions with the player, the NPBís Seibu Lions announced that they would post Hiroyuki Nakajima to the major leagues. Nakajima is a 29-year-old shortstop who hit .297/.354/.433 in 2011.

To begin with his defence, Nakajima won a Gold Glove in 2008 and is reported to possess good range and a strong arm. I havenít heard any reports that his defence has slipped noticeably, but I suspect that Nakajima may have slowed a step or so as he aged. I donít think there is any suggestion he is strong enough defensively to displace Yunel Escobar or potentially Adeiny Hechavarria.

Nevertheless, this raises the question of whether the Jays could be interested in Nakajima with the idea of turning him into a second baseman. This conversion is not uncommon and Aaron Hill is just one example of a player who has made the switch and become a plus defensive second baseman. Nakajima would also receive top-notch defensive instruction from Brian Butterfield, who helped both Hill and Orlando Hudson, who came up as a second baseman, into stand-out defenders both statistically and to the naked eye. It should be noted that this move is not without risk, as Minnesotaís Tsuyoshi Nishioka, a natural shortstop, broke his leg while playing second base early in the 2011 season after failing to properly position himself to leap over the sliding runner while turning a double play. However, it seems that Nakajima may be able to make the transition relatively smoothly, especially with the lessons of Nishioka so fresh (as far as that can be said having not seen anything of him but a few highlight videos online).

Nakajimaís 2011 line of 297/.354/.433 isnít outstanding, but itís also important to note that this season the NPB introduced a new baseball that is supposed to be more similar to a regular major league baseball. On that point, Nakajimaís .433 slugging percentage was actually the sixth-highest in the Pacific League this season. Nakajima hit 16 homers and also stole 27 bases during the past season. His most notable season may have been 2009, when he led the Pacific League with 173 hits and that year Nakajima also played for Japanís World Baseball Classic championship team.

There is a chance that teams could be hesitant when bidding on Nakajima given that the Nishioka contract looks like a mistake through one season (and it shouldnít be taken as given that Nishioka wonít do much better in 2012) and Kaz Matsui, the most notable shortstop to come the majors, also failed to match expectations. However, there is no reason that Nakajima is doomed to follow the paths of Nishioka and Matsui just because they are all Japanese shortstops. He may have particular attributes, or may lack particular attributes, that make him more likely to have success in North America, but itís hard to get a read on what those may be from a little online video and a few vague reports. If trade targets are prohibitively expensive to acquire, I hope that Anthopolous keeps his eye on Nakajima as he may be available at a reasonable price and, to me, is more appealing target than anyone left in free agency. It would be a risk, but it may be worth taking a risk rather than settling for Royce Clayton Round 2.

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