Japan's second best hitter, a shortstop no less (!), is officially coming state side. Were the Rays the highest bidder?
Japan's "second best hitter" Hiroyuki Nakajima recently began the process of joining Major League Baseball in the United Sates, referred to as posting, and last Thursday we looked at his potential in a Rays uniform. The Rays had success with a Japanese free agent before the 2008 season with Aki Iwamura, so the process is not unheard of for the front office. A reasonable fan could expect the Rays, desperate for offense at the shortstop position, to at least make a bid.
A Japanese player, once posted, is awarded though a silent bidding process to the team with the highest bid - and according to John Paul Morosi of Fox Sports, that process has ended. It appears at least one team has made a bid, though the MLB has yet to announce who won.
According to MLB Trade Rumors, the Seibu Lions - Nakajima's posting team - are expected to accept the highest bid regardless of amount. The Lions would be awarded a fee for releasing Nakajima from his contract. Hiroyuki hit a sweet .297/.354/.433 with 16 home runs and 27 doubles in 633 plate appearances in 2011.
Yesterday, the Rays GM spoke to the media about next week's Winter Meetings and mentioned the Rays plan to fill the shortstop position internally next season, but also expressed interest in upgrading the Rays offense as much as possible - so a low bid on Nakajima could have been warranted. If the Rays were then the only team to make a bid, they would be able to sign one of the best free agent bats at a very low price.
Might I also postulate, should the Rays win Nakajima, that they would have even more flexibility on the trade market. Adding Sean Rodriguez and Reid Brignac to the pile of trade chips may be just enough to land a top tier first baseman for 2011 like (first base prospect) Yonder Alonso or (current left fielder) Logan Morrison. The Reds and Marlins are in the market for one of the Rays' many pitchers. Adding a shortstop to the Cincinatti conversation, or a second baseman for Miami, may be enough to complete a deal...
We shall wait and see.