Japanese Invasion, Sort Of
I admit it: I’ve been one of those guys hoping for the Giants to dive into the Japanese market for players for a while.
It’s a big risk: for the best players, there’s a big ‘Posting fee’ that the team would have to pay before even being able to negotiate a salary, but it’s an enticing one. It’s not just because that Japanese players are an untapped market (it’s hard to say that these days), or that Team Japan has won each of the World Baseball Classics. It’s not even just that the general Japanese style of play is a good match for AT&T Park.
I take pride in the diversity of the Bay Area. I really do. And I’d like the team to match that on the field.
Truthfully, that’s a bad thought to have in your mind when building a team. And there are other diversity issues to think about (like the surprising reduction in African-American players since the 1990’s).
But I did. I wanted to have a Japanese player on the team.
Kensuke Tanaka is not likely to be the superstar I was imagining. He’s not even guaranteed to make the team. He’ll be fighting for the last roster spot against guys like Wilson Valdez (who could also play shortstop) and Brett Pill (who brings power to a pinch-hitting role). But it’ll be fun to root for him.
Valdez is a slap hitter with speed. He had two very good seasons with Nippon before injuries decimated most of his last two seasons, and it’s unknown how his speed has been affected by it.
But what Tanaka brings to the team is some talent. He was a five-time Gold Glove winner in Japan, and was voted as the league’s best second baseman (part of the Best Nine awards) four times before his injuries. He has plate discipline on top of everything else. He’d be a left-handed bat off the bench who could do well when the Giants need a guy on base who can run. He’d also be the kind of guy who can spell an aging Marco Scutaro against some right-handed pitching.
Expect to see Tanaka get a lot of time in Spring Training as it’s expected that Pablo Sandoval will be taking part in the World Baseball Classic. I’m looking forward to seeing what he can do.