OAKLAND -- Just hours after free agent shortstop Stephen Drew was plucked off the market by the Boston Red Sox, the A's locked down his replacement. On Tuesday, Japanese shortstop Hiroyuki Nakajima will be introduced by the A's in a press conference at 2 p.m. in Oakland. It will be broadcast live on Comcast SportsNet California.
Nakajima, 30, has reportedly signed a two-year deal worth $6.5 million with a club option for a third season. The financial terms were first reported by the San Francisco Chronicle. That's $3 million less than Drew will be getting for one season from the Red Sox.
Oakland had expressed interest in the Seibu Lions' starting shortstop earlier in the offseason and they met with his representatives at the Winter Meetings.
Listed at 5'11" and 198 pounds, Nakajima hit .311 with 13 home runs, 74 RBI, 52 walks, and a .382 on-base percentage in 136 games last season in the Japanese Pacific League. Those numbers are on par with his career stats, as he is a career .302 hitter with a .367 on-base percentage. In 2011, the Yankees won the negotiating rights for Nakajima but couldn't come to terms on a deal and he remained in Japan.
At the Winter Meetings in Nashville, A's manager Bob Melvin said of Nakajima, "He's a hitter, he looks like a hitter." One MLB talent evaluator told me he has a dependable glove, a chance to hit for average, and should be a solid player. Watching several videos of Nakajima online, it looks like he is a spray hitter with good opposite field power.
So far, infielders from the Pacific League haven't exactly dominated in Major League Baseball. Nakajima took over at shortstop for the Seibu Lions after Kaz Matsui signed with the Mets. Matsui hit .305 with 33 homers and 84 RBI in his final season in Japan. He has a .267 average with 32 home runs, 211 RBI and a .321 on-base percentage in seven Major League seasons.
Tsuyoshi Nishioka is another example of a Pacific League infielder that didn't work out. He was a batting champion and star in Japan, but signed a three-year, $9.25 million contract with Minnesota and was released last September after hitting .215 with 14 errors in 71 games.
Like language, sometimes statistics get lost in translation. It is difficult to project how Nakajima's numbers will look in Oakland. The A's clearly like what they see in Nakajima, though. He is a relatively low risk, potentially high upside player. If all goes according to plan, Nakajima will take over at shortstop until top prospect Addison Russell is MLB-ready. Russell was the A's first round pick in the 2012 First-Year Player Draft.
Now that Oakland has a guy to pencil in at starting shortstop, the reigning American League West Champions' roster appears to be close to complete. FoxSports.com's Ken Rosenthal and Jon Morosi were the first to report the A's and Nakajima were nearing a deal.