Yanks win bidding to talk with Nakajima
Right-handed-hitting infielder would serve as backup to Jeter
DALLAS -- The Yankees have secured the rights to negotiate with Japanese infielder Hiroyuki Nakajima, Major League Baseball announced on Wednesday.
Nakajima, 29, was posted by the Seibu Lions and is a lifetime .302 hitter in Japan, having debuted in 2002. Winning with a reported $2 million bid, the Yankees will have 30 days to sign Nakajima to a Major League or Minor League contract.
"Ultimately, it's an area for us to pursue talent," Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said. "It's having access to a middle-of-the-diamond-type player, and in this game, that's almost becoming rarer and rarer on a yearly basis."
While Nakajima was a starting shortstop and team captain for Seibu, the Yankees continue to be well set at all of their infield positions.
Their interest in the right-handed-hitting Nakajima would be as a reserve behind shortstop Derek Jeter, third baseman Alex Rodriguez and second baseman Robinson Cano.
"He's not a starter for us," Cashman said. "It doesn't mean he's not a starting player, but we have players that are better than him assigned. The purpose of acquiring him had nothing to do with them, it's obviously the support of them."
In 144 games this past season for Seibu, Nakajima batted .297 with 16 home runs, 100 RBIs and 21 stolen bases. He represented Japan at the 2008 Olympics and in the '09 World Baseball Classic.
If Nakajima signs with the Yankees, he would attend Major League camp this spring, although there are no guarantees that he would be on the 25-man roster when Spring Training ends.
"This is about acquiring talented players to put them on our club," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "He'll be asked to do a number of things. Obviously we will look at him. This is about acquiring talent, and we feel we have a chance to sign a talented player."
Most of Nakajima's professional experience has come at shortstop, and he improved his defense in recent years, winning a Golden Glove award in 2008.
However, one veteran observer of Japanese baseball compared Nakajima to the Twins' Tsuyoshi Nishioka, saying that Nakajima's bat should be more lively but his defense is not as polished.
The Yankees used Eduardo Nunez at three infield positions this past season, and though they have been reluctant to consider dealing him, Cashman has confirmed that Nunez is drawing trade interest.
Both Cashman and Girardi said that it would be possible to carry both Nakajima and Nunez on their 25-man roster.
"I think there's a space for both of them, and Nunez is a guy we envisioned moving all around and possibly playing some outfield," Girardi said. "I believe there's a spot for both of them."
Nakajima's posting fee is relatively affordable for the Yankees. By measure of comparison, the club's winning posting bid for left-hander Kei Igawa was $26 million in November 2006.
"Having access to someone that can play up the middle as good as he can, and try to get access at a cost level that might benefit us, I think it makes a lot of sense," Cashman said.
If the Yankees are unable to reach an agreement with Nakajima and his representative, Greg Genske, by Jan. 6, his rights would be returned to Seibu and no posting fee would be charged.