Spring Training begins in late-February and the San Francisco Giants and Oakland A’s are actively making roster changes that impact Japanese and JA players.
In search of an everyday left-fielder as opposed to going with the platoon seen in 2013, the Giants wanted to trade for Norichika Aoki, but the Milwaukee Brewers dealt him to the Kansas City Royals instead.
And I know there’s been speculation in recent weeks about interest in aging outfielder Ichiro Suzuki, but there is no imminent deal between the Giants and Yankees despite his reported interest in San Francisco. His trade value isn’t that high and it wouldn’t be surprising to see him remain in New York.
“We’re trying to explore every day left-field options which at this point are not coming to fruition, or they’re not out there,” Giants general manager Brian Sabean said on Dec. 9, the first day of Winter Meetings.
But three days later the Giants rolled the dice and signed injury-prone slugger Michael Morse to start in left with Gregor Blanco and Juan Perez backing him up.
Fan-favorite Kensuke Tanaka provided a brief spark in left to a struggling Giants squad this past summer, but he’s now a free agent currently playing winter ball for Bravos de Margarita in Venezuela and his name hasn’t been mentioned for a camp invite.
Meanwhile the Giants added former A’s star pitcher Tim Hudson and re-signed Ryan Vogelsong to complete their starting rotation needs with Yusmeiro Petit providing depth from the bullpen — which means San Francisco is out the potential bidding war for Japanese ace Masahiro Tanaka if he’s posted by Rakuten.
The 25-year-old right-hander went 24-0 with a 1.27 ERA and 183 strikeouts against 32 walks in 212 innings for Rakuten this season helping the Golden Eagles win their first Japan Series title. He also set a Guinness World Record for most consecutive wins in consecutive starts with 30 straight, including two postseason victories this year and four wins from 2012.
In accordance with a new MLB and NPB agreement, Rakuten is due a $20 million posting fee from the MLB team that intends to sign him. That’s far less than the $51.7 million the Nippon Ham Fighters got from the Texas Rangers in 2012 for posting Yu Darvish. The Golden Eagles, of course, would prefer their star player remain in Japan.
I can’t speculate as to Tanaka’s future team, but the Yankees are very interested and financially equipped. I’d put the Giants and A’s as long shots at best for Tanaka.
But the A’s have been among the most active teams this winter as general manager Billy Beane has made four trades in nine days acquiring lefty Drew Pomeranz, closer Jim Johnson, reliever Luke Gregerson, outfielder Craig Gentry and minor league pitcher Chris Jensen in the process.
Additionally, manager Bob Melvin said Dec. 10 that shortstop Hiroyuki Nakajima will be used at multiple positions around the diamond next year which increase his chances of playing in Oakland as the 31-year-old struggled this spring, but slashed .283/.331/.367 at Triple-A Sacramento this summer.
Nakajima signed a two-year, $6.5 million last offseason and is owed $2.5 million in 2014. Translation: expect him to be in the mix at O.co Coliseum this upcoming season.
A few A’s-related closing notes: lefty reliever Hideki Okajima, who appeared in five games this season, will return to the Softbank Hawks where he pitched in 2012 while free agent catcher Kurt Suzuki is garnering heavy interest from the Minnesota Twins, Chicago Cubs and Colorado Rockies.
It’s a few months before teams begin reporting to camp, but to quote Beane in a recent USA Today article, “There’s a lot of winter left. A lot can happen.”
Drew Morita, a Yonsei from the island of Kaua‘i, grew up rooting for the Oakland A’s but is now a loyal San Francisco Giants fan. He writes from San Francisco. Follow him @drewmorita or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.