Is Kei Igawa Movable?

» 15 March 2009 » In mlb »

This blog post generated a little traffic for NPB Tracker a couple of weeks ago. The gist of it was that Kei Igawa wasn’t wanted for the Japanese WBC team. This is true, he was never considered for inclusion. And it begs the question — can Igawa be moved? Either within MLB or back to NPB?

First let’s scratch a move back to NPB off the list of possibilities, at least for now. It was reported that the Yanks looked for a way to return Igawa after the 2007 season, but couldn’t make it work and gave up. Igawa fueled speculation in the Japanese media of an NPB return again last offseason, when went to visit the offices of the Hanshin Tigers, his old NPB team. Nothing came of that either, and Igawa wrote it off as just a visit. Later in the offseason, the former chair of the Tigers’ Old Boys club blasted him publicly, but I’m not sure if that’s entirely reflective of Hanshin’s management’s view of Igawa.

Hanshin still holds Igawa’s NPB rights, and the only way he could go to another NPB team would be if they choose to release him or trade his rights away. Kazuhisa Ishii is so far the only player to return to his former team after being posted.

Give Hanshin credit for posting Igawa when they did — they rode Daisuke Matsuzaka’s coattails to a $26m windfall for the team, without seriously harming their long term competitiveness.

So what about a move to another MLB team? Igawa was placed on waivers when he was removed from the Yanks’ 40-man roster was unprotected in the rule 5 draft last off season, but didn’t attract any takers. There were rumblings that Detroit was interested, and Yankees were trying to move him to the Brewers for Mike Cameron, but obviously nothing happened.

Igawa is openly showcasing himself for other teams this spring, and he’s doing a pretty good job at it. He’s survived the first cut of the spring and pitched 9 scoreless innings in 5 appearances so far. He also put up respectable numbers in AAA last year, but in this economy his contract will be an issue. Igawa is owed $4m/year for the next three seasons, so if the Yanks want him gone they’ll have to take some money back. The Giants seem like a fit if they can match up with the Yankees on a contract.

But perhaps the biggest stumbling block is Igawa’s reputation — no one seems to think he can survive at the MLB level. In an interview offseason, he said, with a laugh, “it seemed like there was a team that saw my (AAA) numbers and tried to acquire me. Then I was told ‘we found out the name, and it was you!'”. Igawa is going to have to prove he can be an MLB pitcher, and it’s going to take more than 8 good spring training innings to do that. It’ll probably take a combination of a lights-out spring plus some injury problems for him to get a look somewhere, but his spring performance is certainly a start.

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