The Yankees won't be signing Hiroyuki Nakajima, but that’s probably not a big deal anyway. I spoke with Ichiro Kubota at Japan’s Slugger magazine to get a scouting report on the infielder. What I heard wasn’t all that exciting. "Like Jeter, he has a good inside-out swing," Kubota said, "but I doubt he can do the same thing in MLB. It is possible for him to hit .280 in MLB but don’t expect him to hit 15 or more home runs."
Well, okay, that’s fine—we only expect a utility infielder to hit so much, and maybe for all of that Nakajima would be above average for the role (were he to accept it). However, we do expect them to field. What’s the report there? "Many observers feel that his defense is not very good to say the least. In 2010, his UZR of -19.4 was the worst among the regular shortstop in NPB" Oh, swell. How about versatility? "His arm is not strong that would be a problem in 3B."
Maybe Nakajima wouldn’t be such a great signing after all, then. One question provoked by this is, "Why start?" Another is, does the decision not to meet his price open the door for Eric Chavez’s return. Given Alex Rodriguez’s increasing fragility, it does seem necessary for the Yankees to have a real reserve third baseman, by which I mean not just someone who can adequately stand at third base, but a true quality player who could take up a month of playing time without hurting the team.
It doesn’t seem like Chavez is that guy anymore. From 2010 to 2011 he hit .251/.302/.347 with three home runs in 271 at-bats. Perhaps he can still field the position, but there just isn’t a whole lot of there there. There isn’t much left on the free agent market either. Ex-Yankee Wilson Betemit is still floating about, and the guy can still hit, batting .290/.359/.479 over the last two seasons (675 PAs). He will not field the position well, will drive you crazy with his strikeouts, and it seems as if he has to play fairly regularly to find value. Still, if you’re really concerned about getting real offense at the position when/as/if A-Rod takes his sabbatical, maybe that’s a way to go. Otherwise, it’s a trade, and it certainly seems as if an upgrade on Chavez is something worth trading for.