I reached out to David P. from YankeeSource on the recent news that the Yankees won the bidding for Hiroyuki Nakajima. David scouts the Pacific Rim, primarily NPB and Taiwan but also spends time in Latin America prior to International Free Agent signings.
Brandon C: Were you surprised the Yankees signed Hiroyuki Nakajima, and do you think they even intended to win the bidding?
David P: Yes. The Yankees never had strong interest in Nakajima from the start and there were stronger rumors that the Toronto Blue Jays and the New York Mets had greater interest. I spoke to two Yankee scouts who believe that the Yankees were surprised when they found out they were the winning bid. I think they bid on Nakajima but didn't expect to win at $2 million. Most projections had the bidding up to 5-7 million. This one was a surprise indeed.
BC: Can you give us a scouting report of Nakajima? Do you like the move?
DP: Nakajima has a live bat with power but doesn't project to hit more than 15 homers if he was a regular. He can take the ball to all fields and has the ability to find the gaps but he can also look bad on outside pitches because of a tendency to bail out on pitches and get pull-happy. The one good sign was this past season where he hit well with the introduction of the new NPB ball that suppressed a lot of the offensive numbers around the league this year. I think Kevin Long could help Nakajima shake his bad tendencies and refine his hitting approach. I compare him to a more powerful version of Scutaro offensively with less patience. Defensively, he is just average. He doesn't profile as a shortstop and most scouts, myself included, believe he would be a good second/third baseman. I think that's where he fits on the Yankees, a utility infielder with the ability to play 2B/SS/3B.
I love his makeup, following the Lions for years he's a lively character who enjoys playing the sport and has a passion and drive to win. His teammates always speak highly of him and I think his outgoing nature will help him if he comes to New York. I like the move, he's an affordable gamble to take and if the Yankees can sign him for a cheap deal they have a durable utility infielder for a few years and one who may have some trade value if he proves that he can be a decent starter in the league. I personally would have preferred to see Nakajima get a starting role on another team because he does have ability.
BC: What do you think ends up happening with Nakajima? Will he sign/play for the Yankees?
DP: There was a hesitation from Nakajima for playing on the East Coast. Maybe the utility role might also hinder his interest. Nevertheless, the Yankees have a good chance of signing Nakajima. He has a strong interest in the MLB and this is a great opportunity to play for one of the best organizations in the game. The Lions are already preparing on life after Nakajima with strong rumors of pursuing former major leaguer Esteban German.
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BC: Do you think this is a move to entice Yu Darvish (if they win the bidding)/Hiroki Kuroda to play in New York?
DP: I thought about this the moment the Yankees won the bid. Nakajima and Darvish play against each other often and it sure does help to see a familiar face in a foreign land. Nakajima could help convince Darvish to make the move to New York if the Yankees won the bidding. It's not easy for any Japanese player to make that transition. We've seen it with Igawa, Irabu, and others. It's a lot easier to go through your first season in the big leagues with another player (in this case Nakajima) who is also making the adjustments.
Kuroda will just go to the highest bidder in my opinion. He's open to playing anywhere and money is an issue so it doesn't seem like Nakajima would have any effect on Kuroda's decision. The Yankees are also not showing much interest in Kuroda at this point.
BC: What's the latest on Yu Darvish?
DP: The latest on Darvish is a jumbled mess. I talked to a Lions source who believes Darvish has a chance to be posted next week. Another source said that Darvish might hold off on a decision till January. The Darvish/Tellem camp is indecisive and that's the best way to describe the situation. I expect things to be clearer next week.