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Nakajima, Aoki reminders that posting system is an inexact science

by Wayne Graczyk

There were some strange goings-on in the attempts by Japanese stars Hiroyuki Nakajima and Norichika Aoki to leave their clubs and carve out careers in the major leagues via the posting system.

We already know Nakajima’s negotiations with the New York Yankees were not successful, and he will be returning to the Seibu Lions for the 2012 season. Aoki is supposedly negotiating with the Milwaukee Brewers, and the deadline for reaching a deal comes up in a few days, at 7 a.m. Japan time on Wednesday.

It was surprising to many when it was revealed the highest posting bid for shortstop Nakajima was made by the Yankees, who have the left side of their infield covered by superstars Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez. The conclusion was Nakajima would be a backup and maybe an insurance policy in case Jeter or A-Rod become injured.

Another curious detail surfaced a week after it was determined the Brewers had won the rights to negotiate with Aoki. Japanese sports newspapers reported Milwaukee planned to “test” the outfielder; that is by Japanese definition give him a tryout. It seems the thinking of the major league teams and that of the Japanese players and press is not on the same level.

The process whereby Nakajima was posted began Nov. 28 when a Kyodo News headline read, “Seibu submits papers for Nakajima to use posting system.” The following day, another news article appeared under the words, “Nakajima posted to 30 major league clubs.”

A week went by until the next headline came out on Dec. 6. It read, “Seibu to accept bid for Nakajima from mysterious winner.” On Dec. 8, the MLB team was revealed: “Yankees win bid to negotiate with Nakajima.” Following that, Nakajima was quoted as saying he was honored to have attracted the Yankees’ attention, and he looked forward to playing for such a great franchise.

That was about it until the Christmas and New Year holidays took over. Then, suddenly, on Jan. 4, another headline appeared: “Deadline nearing for Yankees, Nakajima,” as if the Jan. 7, 5 p.m., EST time limit had snuck up.

On Jan. 5, Kyodo came out with, “Nakajima flies to New York in hope of landing last-minute Yankees deal.” It was also reported the player would have to pass a physical examination before a contract could be signed.

A day later, on Jan. 6, there were two headlines: “No Yankees deal for Nakajima,” followed by, “Yankees officially break off talks with Nakajima.”

Aoki’s saga was put into motion on Dec. 12 when it came to light with, “Swallows begin procedures for posting Aoki.” Five days later on Dec. 17, the headline was, “Yakult accepts major league bid on Aoki.” The next day, readers saw, “Brewers win negotiating rights for Aoki.”

Like Nakajima, Aoki expressed his delight at the prospects of playing for a contending team in North America, noting the Brewers are the defending National League Central Division champions, and he looked forward to joining their powerful hitting lineup.

Then came the news about the “tryout,” and it is difficult to understand how the Brewers could have made the top posting bid for a player if they don’t know what they might be getting. Scouting reports and video of Aoki playing for Yakult should have provided all the necessary information.

A Jan. 9 MLB.com online article was titled, “After workout, clock ticking for Brewers, Aoki,” and a subhead said, “Milwaukee discussing whether to pursue Japanese outfielder.” The story indicated the Brewers “ran Aoki through a workout” on Jan. 8, and the player was to undergo a physical exam last Monday.

Following that, the Brewers front office was to determine if Aoki would fit into the team’s lineup which brings up the question: If they weren’t sure of that, why did they make a posting bid in the first place?

This is all not to say New York and Milwaukee did something wrong or that Nakajima and Aoki are at fault. As stated earlier, it seems to be simply a case of the thinking of the MLB teams and the proud self-evaluation of the players not being on the same level, with maybe a little language misinterpretation.

Nakajima rightfully thinks of himself as an All-Star shortstop, a proven .300 hitter and a 100-RBI-man who can crack the lineup of most American or National League clubs if given the chance. The Yankees viewed him as a fill-in.

Aoki knows he himself is one of the best players in Japan, also an All-Star, a three-time Central League batting champion and a quality defensive outfielder at the top of his game who believes he does not have to prove himself and pass a “test” before joining a major league club as a starter.

The Brewers apparently, as the article also mentions, feel Aoki might be a good left-handed hitter coming off the bench or, like Nakajima, a sub who could fill in at left field for Ryan Braun should the National League MVP serve a 50-game suspension after testing positive for an elevated level of testosterone.

As for the language problem, it is obvious a “workout” and a “test” are vastly different. Milwaukee wisely wanted to check out Aoki first hand, to see how he runs, throws and swings the bat. Nothing wrong with that, but the impression in Japan seemed to be Aoki was to be given a tryout — in mid-winter, no less — as if he were a raw, unproven rookie.

As it is often said, east is east and west is west, but will Aoki make it in the NL Central? We will know in a few days if Aoki signs with the Brewers or will end up like Nakajima and return to Japan for another season with Yakult.


Contact Wayne Graczyk at: Wayne@JapanBall.com