After seven seasons in the majors Kazuo Matsui has returned to Japan by signing with the Rakuten Eagles, which is interesting timing as the baseball world waits to see which team won the bidding for negotiating rights to Japanese infielder Tsuyoshi Nishioka.
Nishioka is a speedy, switch-hitting middle infielder who won a batting title in Japan last season and has Gold Gloves at both shortstop and second base. And once upon a time Matsui came to the United States with essentially the exact same resume.
Matsui left Japan in 2003 following seven straight seasons with a .300-plus batting average and smacked 33, 36, 24, 23 homers in his final four years there. He also averaged 35 stolen bases per season and was a four-time Gold Glove winner at shortstop.
If anything, the scouting reports on Matsui then were even better than they are for Nishioka now.
Matsui signed a three-year, $20 million deal with the Mets, but proved to be a shaky defensive shortstop who was eventually moved to second base and hit just .267 with a .321 on-base percentage and .380 slugging percentage in 630 career games while totaling 32 homers in 2,302 at-bats.
I’m certainly not suggesting that Nishioka must be compared to Matsui simply because they were both born in the same country any more than I’d suggest Joe Mauer must be compared to Jeff Mathis. However, even seven years after Matsui signed with the Mets he remains the only prominent Japanese shortstop to play in MLB and it’s tough not to think about Matsui’s disappointing seven-year career when reading the remarkably similar-sounding reports about Nishioka.
Projecting how hitters will perform in MLB based on their production in Nippon Professional Baseball is hard enough, but projecting how they’ll hit while also trying to determine if a shortstop there has what it takes to be a full-time shortstop here adds another layer of unknown. And unfairly or not, the fact that right now Matsui stands as the lone data point dramatically increases the skepticism surrounding Nishioka’s upside.
Jon Morosi of FOX Sports reports that the Tigers are in discussions with free agent starter Jordan Zimmermann. His sources have told him that the talks have become “serious”.
Zimmermann, 29, has a career 3.32 ERA across parts of seven seasons in the majors. He finished fifth in National League Cy Young Award balloting in 2014, finishing with a 2.66 ERA and a 182/29 K/BB ratio over 199 2/3 innings.
Among starters who have amassed at least 1,000 innings since 2009, only Cliff Lee, Dan Haren, Madison Bumgarner, and Zack Greinke have compiled a better strikeout-to-walk ratio than Zimmermann’s 4.09. While he doesn’t have the star power of other free agents such as Greinke or David Price, the Tigers would certainly improve their rotation by bringing him on board.
Having already added Jesse Chavez and J.A. Happ to the mix and re-signing Marco Estrada early in the offseason, Blue Jays interim GM Tony LaCava said the team will continue to pursue pitching upgrades, as Sportsnet’s Ben Nicholson-Smith reports. Nicholson-Smith added that LaCava declined to comment on free agent ace David Price. It is believed that the Jays will not pursue Price and other big-name free agent starting pitchers given their November activity.
The Jays re-signed Estrada to a two-year, $26 million deal on November 13, acquired Chavez from the Athletics in exchange for reliever Liam Hendriks on November 20 and signed Happ to a three-year, $36 million deal on Friday.
Nicholson-Smith notes in a column on Sportsnet that the Jays need to address the bullpen in particular. That is especially true after swapping Hendriks, who had a career-best 2.92 ERA out of the Jays’ bullpen in 2015, for a back-end starting pitcher.
Jon Heyman of CBS Sports spoke to an anonymous baseball executive, who said that Nationals closer Jonathan Papelbon is “untradeable”. The Nationals are hoping to trade both Papelbon and the man he displaced, Drew Storen.
Papelbon has a poor reputation in baseball, particularly after a dugout altercation with superstar outfielder Bryce Harper. Focusing strictly on what he does on the field, Papelbon still gets the job done. The 35-year-old finished the last season with a combined 2.13 ERA, 24 saves, and a 56/12 K/BB ratio over 63 1/3 innings between the Phillies and Nationals.
The Nationals owe Papelbon $11 million for the 2016 season.
Baseball America’s J.J. Cooper reports that corner infielder Mike Hessman has retired from professional baseball after 20 seasons. Hessman hit 433 home runs in the minor leagues, an all-time record. He broke Buzz Arlett’s record this past August and with style as #433 was a grand slam.
Hessman, 37, was selected in the 16th round of the 1996 draft by the Braves and remained with the organization through the 2004 season. He then went to the Tigers from 2005-09, the Mets in 2010, then drifted into the Astros and Reds’ farm systems before returning to the Tigers for the last two years.
Hessman took 250 plate appearances at the major league level, batting .188/.272/.422 with 14 home runs and 33 RBI.