2013 Free Agents
All right, here we go. 2013 free agents.
This year, 85 players (18 domestic, 67 international) qualify for free agency. In practice, only a small minority will file and change teams. I will highlight the interesting ones; here’s the full list in Japanese (Google Translate may work all right for that).
International Free Agents
Players who have accumulated nine years of service time are eligible to move overseas.
- Kyuji Fujikawa, relief pitcher, Hanshin Tigers
This year’s FA class is undoubtedly headed by Hanshin closer Fujikawa, NPB’s most dominant reliever over the last several years. Kyuji has been on the nichibei scene for years; he was actually the first player I profiled way back in 2008 and has since made a perennial habit of asking Hanshin to post him and being turned down. Now as a free agent he’ll finally get his shot. Kyuji isn’t the same guy as he was in 2006, but he still get’s plenty of swinging strikes with the usual vertical movement on his fastball and splitters in the dirt (more data here). His K rate in 2012 was 10.95 per 9, which is great but actually down a bit from his usual 12-14 range. He’ll certainly command an MLB contract, but it seems likely that he’ll begin his MLB career in a middle relief role.
- Hiroyuki Nakajima, shortstop/infield, Saitama Seibu Lions
If Nakajima’s name sounds familiar, that’s probably because he was posted last offseason, and his negotiating rights were won by the Yankees. Nakaji and the Bombers failed to agree to a contract, so he hopped in his Ferrari and headed back to the Lions for another year, putting up a healthy .311/.382/.451 slash line. His batting average might have led the Pacific League had Lotte not gutlessly pitched around him on the last day of the season, but instead ended up a single point behind Katsuya Kakunaka. His OBP ranked second in the Pacific League, and his slugging pct was fourth, and well ahead of the next middle infielder. In the field he seems to make the play he gets to, but has lost some range, and the consensus is that he’s probably not a full-time MLB shortstop.
Anyway, now Nakajima is back on the market as a free agent. I was a big fan of the idea of Nakaji in New York, acclimatizing himself to MLB while getting 300 or so at-bats spelling Derek Jeter at SS and Alex Rodriguez at 3B, but obviously that didn’t come to fruition. There were other MLB teams interested in Nakajima last time around, so I think there is little doubt he’ll find an MLB deal this year, but it will remain to be seen what kind of role he winds up in.
- Takashi Toritani, shortstop/infield, Hanshin Tigers
There are a number of things to like about Toritani: he’s played every game since 2005, he led NPB in walks by a wide margin in 2012, defensively he inspires a bit more confidence at shortstop than Nakajima. On the flip side, his power evaporated with the introduction of the new ball in 2011, we have yet to see an NPB shortstop move to MLB and stick, and the most observers seem to agree that he’d be better off remaining in Japan. If his defense and plate discipline hold up, his skill set sounds Oakland A’s-ish, but that’s hardly a given and Hanshin will make a big play to keep him. His best financial offer will certainly come from Japan and I think he’ll probably stay put.
- Kensuke Tanaka, 2b/infield, Nippon Ham Fighters
Tanaka has been on the free agency market before, but he signed a multi-year contract with Nippon Ham that included an opt-out that allows him to pursue an MLB deal. He is expected to exercise that right. The book on Tanaka is that of a small-ball player: he’s a rangy second baseman who hits for average and draws walks, gets bunts down and steals bases, but offers minimal power. As such, of the infielders listed here he most obviously profiles as a utility guy, though his glove is probably the best of the three. Reporting out of Japan indicates that he seems willing to take a minor league contract, and if that’s the case someone will give him a chance to win a job. Incidentally, he may have kind of a roundabout advantage in that having been a teammate of Yu Darvish for several years, MLB scouts should already be pretty familiar with him.
- Hideki Okajima, relief pitcher, Softbank Hawks
You guys remember Okajima. After the Yankees terminated his contract last year (that’s two nearly-Yankees Jima’s this list), Okie signed with Softbank and had a strong year, not allowing an earned run until August. He’s angling for an MLB return this offseason.
There are no significant posting candidates this offseason.