December 20, 2002
The inevitable finally happened - the New York Yankees signed Hideki Matsui to a 3 year contract worth $21 million.
First of all, if Matsui comes over here and stinks they will still make money because of the relationship with Japan and all of the potential marketing that can be done.
But I don't think Matsui is going to stink.
Ichiro! came over here and the reaction of many people in the baseball world was to immediately put him down and say he would not succeed over here.
That notion proved to be ridiculous, as Ichiro! won the MVP award in his first season here and hit .321 with a .388 OBP in his second year.
America doesn't have some special dust we sprinkle on our athletes to make them automatically better than everyone else.
Any fan of the NBA can tell you that European and Asian players are having huge impacts in the league right now and there are tons of other players who will be coming over to the States in the near future.
For baseball, Japan is a huge pool of talent that is largely untapped as of now.
Several pitchers have come over here and have generally done very well, but so far the only hitters have been Ichiro!, Tsuyoshi Shinjo and So Taguchi.
While reading all I could about Matsui this off-season, I found that a lot of people feel he will fail here because of what Shinjo has done (or hasn't done).
That is just silly, because in Japan Tsuyoshi Shinjo was a very popular player, but a very mediocre player.
He was flashy and the fans liked that, but he never really hit much and most of his value came from his fielding.
And that is exactly what he has done in the Major Leagues - hit a little bit and done a good job in the outfield.
BaseballProspectus.com published a couple of articles last year about the top players in the Japanese Leagues.
In the articles, they "translated" their stats to a Major League level, in the same way that people translate minor league performance.
Here are Shinjo's last 4 seasons in Japan, translated to the American Major League level:
1997 = .230/.294/.402
1998 = .223/.271/.343
1999 = .241/.289/.397
2000 = .271/.316/.478
Basically, Shinjo was the equivalent of a .235 hitter with a sub-.300 OBP and a SLG that hovered around .390.
He had his "career year" in 2000 and saw his batting average jump up about 30 points and his slugging almost reached .500.
What has he done since coming to America?
2001 = .268/.320/.405
2002 = .238/.294/.370
Those numbers fit perfectly within the translated stats for his Japanese career.
Basically, Shinjo was a good field/no hit player in the Japanese Leagues and that is exactly what he is over here.
Here are Hideki Matsui's translated numbers:
1999 = .277/.392/.572
2000 = .305/.430/.627
2001 = .313/.442/.586
Because Prospectus ran this article last year, I don't have Matsui's translated stats for the 2002 season.
However, 2002 was his best year as a player and I have no doubt his translated stats would be in the .320/.440/.600 range.
Even if Matsui's performance drops off quite a bit (or the translations are a little off), he is still well within the range of a .290/.400/.500 player, which is a star in Major League baseball.
Add that in with the marketing possibilities and the Yankees will get a real bargain for $7 million a season.
It wouldn't surprise me to see Matsui hit about .290 with 35 homers, 90 walks and solid corner outfield defense, which would make him one of the better outfielders in baseball.
Think Brian Giles with a little more defense.
Nakamura isn't quite at Matsui's level, but he is pretty close.
Here are his translations:
1998 = .267/.359/.508
1999 = .276/.367/.513
2000 = .285/.376/.590
2001 = .333/.432/.639
Once again, I don't have the translations his 2002 performance, but it was slightly less impressive than his 2001 campaign, so it's probably somewhere in the .300/.370/.550 range.
Nakamura will take a walk, his batting average is pretty solid and he has tremendous power.
ESPN.com is reporting that the Mets are offering about $7 million bucks for 2 seasons, while Nakamura is getting offers of up to $6 million a year from Japanese clubs.
If he decides to join the Mets at that price, he will be a huge bargain.
Like I said, I believe Japan is a huge potential resource that is still largely untapped.
Teams like the Yankees are in a position to benefit greatly because they are willing to take a chance and sign someone that is not a proven commodity over here.
Plus, having a massive payroll doesn't hurt either.
I think Matsui will be one of the best players in the league and at $7 million a season, that is a pretty nice deal.
Nakamura could very easily be one of the top 3-5 third basemen in baseball and at $3.5 million a year, that is highway robbery.
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