MLB teams in need of a shortstop but without the resources to go after Jose Reyes or Jimmy Rollins will have another intriguing option, as Ken Rosenthal of FOXSports.com reports that Hiroyuki Nakajima will be posted by his team in Japan.
Nakajima has long been a star in Japan, but the history of Japanese hitters–and infielders, in particular–coming to MLB is a mixed bag.
Last offseason the Twins paid $15 million for Tsuyoshi Nishioka, a 26-year-old Gold Glove-winning shortstop who’d just won a batting title in Japan, and he was a massive flop. Nishioka’s lack of power was one of his biggest issues and Nakajima is a much different type of hitter, averaging 20 homers during the past four seasons while hitting above .300 for his career.
However, he’s coming off a mediocre year in which he slugged just .433, so the 29-year-old seems unlikely to create a significant bidding war. Via the posting process MLB teams submit bids for exclusive negotiating rights and then must work out a separate contract with the player, getting a refund on the bid if they can’t agree to a deal.
The Orioles have inked shortstop Alcides Escobar to a minor league contract, MLB.com’s Joe Trezza reported Saturday. The deal comes with an invitation to spring training and will allow Escobar to earn $700,000 in the majors if he breaks camp with the team (via Jon Heyman of MLB Network). The team has yet to formally announce the agreement.
Escobar, 32, completed an eight-year run with the Royals in 2018. No longer the .280-average, 3.0-fWAR player of seasons past, he hit several career lows after batting .231/.279/.313 with four home runs, eight stolen bases (in 10 chances), and a .593 OPS through 531 plate appearances last year. His defensive ratings also took a hit, and FanGraphs pegged him as the fourth-worst shortstop in the majors after he accumulated -12 DRS over the course of the season, only slightly higher than the Orioles/Dodgers’ Manny Machado, Mets’ Amed Rosario, and Red Sox’ Xander Bogaerts.
Still, Heyman holds that Escobar is being considered for the starting gig this spring and could yet prove an upgrade over top prospects and infield candidates Richie Martin and Drew Jackson. At the very least, the veteran shortstop figures to stabilize the position given Martin and Jackson’s relative inexperience, as both infielders played to varying results in Double-A Tulsa last year and have yet to break into the majors. Should either player earn consideration for the position in camp, however, Escobar might still work his way onto the Opening Day roster in a utility role as he saw some time at third base, second base, and center field in 2018.