2014 Statistics (Japan): 644 PA, .313/.406/.415, 8 HR, 73 RBI, 10 SB
2015 Age: 33
In a move that makes pretty clear his interest in joining MLB next season, Japanese shortstop Takashi Toritani has retained the services of super-agent Scott Boras. At 33, Toritani just completed his eleventh season with NPB's Hanshin Tigers. Over the past decade he's played in 1,444 consecutive games (a Japanese record), all at shortstop and without missing a single inning in the field. With his usual carnival barker flare, Boras has anointed Toritani "the Cal Ripken of Japan."
Despite his similar durability, Toritani isn't quite Ripken on the field. He's hit only 120 home runs in over 6,500 plate appearances for Hanshin. While his defensive range is considered above average and he's got a career fielding percentage of .986 and has made only nine errors in his last 288 games, there's some thought that his arm will make him a better fit at second base in the US. In this video he moves well to both sides, but getting the ball to first is occasionally a struggle.
There's also a lot to like about Toritani's game. With walk rates of 16.2 and 13.5 percent in 2013 and 2014 respectively, his plate discipline is top notch, and that's something the Yankees have sorely lacked the past two years. Toritani's .285/.372/.412 career triple slash is nothing to scoff at for a middle infielder, nor is the .820 OPS he posted this past season. He's notched ten or more steals in each of the past five seasons, showing some value on the base paths. Though his home park in Japan, Koshien Stadium, boasts hitter-friendly dimensions, too, it's possible Toritani would get some kind of power boost as a left-handed hitter in Yankee Stadium. This World Baseball Classic home run would look just fine settling into the right field bleachers.
Toritani is used to playing - a lot - so it's understandable that he's not interested in making the trek to the US to be a reserve. While the dollar cost of bringing him in would be minimal, compared with other top shortstops on the market - Hanley Ramirez, Jed Lowrie, Asdrubal Cabrera - he'd require a substantial commitment in terms of his role. Consecutive games streaks can be a double-edged sword. Sure, they show an innate ability to stay healthy and play through injury, but sometimes they go on longer than they should to the detriment of the team . As Ripken plodded through his late thirties, the Orioles could probably have benefited from him sitting out a few games. Joe Torre awkwardly catered to Hideki Matsui's shorter streak throughout his first three seasons as a Yankee.
By plugging Toritani in as their everyday - and that means every day - shortstop the Yankees would be asking a lot. Not only would he be moving halfway around the world and learning an entirely new set of pitchers, he'd also be tackling the daunting task of replacing Derek Jeter. But the Yankees are staring at a black hole at the shortstop position this off-season, and for the foreseeable future. They'd be remiss not to at least consider Toritani as a possible solution. He'd certainly be more interesting to watch than Stephen Drew or Brendan Ryan.