November 09, 2010
Oh, happy day! Our own Jeff Passan just nailed his annual free-agent tracker to the wall and the activity among that list of 164 job seekers will occupy our main focus for a few months.
There is, however, one yet-to-be listed player who could end up making a lot of headlines on his own. Tsuyoshi Nishioka of the Chiba Lotte Marines (left, with Ichiro(notes)) is expected to make himself available to MLB teams this week, reports ESPN's Tim Kurkijan, and his posting would be certain to draw a lot of interest on both sides of the Pacific.
Ten years after Ichiro made his way to the Seattle Mariners, Major League Baseball is still waiting for another Japanese position player that it can christen as the next Ichiro.
The parallels: Nishioka is 26 years old and just won a Japanese batting title with a .346 average (via 206 hits) in 2010. Ichiro was just a year older when he came to the U.S. at 27, when he was a seven-time defending NPB batting champion. Both are speedy leadoff hitters and smack the ball with a similar swing that Ichiro has already made iconic in the states.
The similarities, though, probably end there. Nishioka is a switch-hitting infielder who would probably play second base in the major leagues.
Also, while Ichiro has been a model of endurance in right field, Nishioka has struggled with injuries so far in his career, only playing more than 130 games in one season over in Japan. That won't get it done over here (or, presumably, at the negotiating table).
While we'd like to get excited over another Japanese import who'd move the international baseball needle, Fangraphs' Patrick Newman provides a reason for restraint. Though Nishioka still has "upside," Newman thinks he'll fall somewhere between Chone Figgins(notes) and Ryan Theriot(notes). Yeah, not exactly a projection to get excited over.
We'll see exactly how Nishioka stacks up with Ichiro when (and if) he makes his way to America. But the lesson I think we'll be left with is that there's only one Ichiro ... which is why we're going on a decade of still waiting for the next edition to come along.
Here's a good adidas commercial featuring the artistically minded Nishioka: