04 February 2005

Not-a-Hero Nakamura

The Los Angeles Dodgers have signed former Kinetsu/Orix Buffaloes thirdbaseman Norihiro Nakamura to a contract. The Dodgers had to make a bid to Nakamura's Japanese team for the right to negotiate with him, and upon winning the bid, they have signed him to a contract.

The Associated Press reports that it is not yet clear whether this will be a major- or minor-league contract. Everybody get that? Not only have the Dodgers have not said that Nakamura is expected to be the starting 3B in 2005, they haven't even told us if he's going to make the major league roster. This, my dear Dodger fans, is not your savior. This is not another Hideo Nomo. This may not even be another Kazuo Matsui.

Norihiro Nakamura may have been the preeminent slugging thirdbaseman in the Japanese leagues, but that was a couple of years and a couple of injuries ago. He his .300 or better only once, in 2001, and hasn’t been the same player since. His .267/.366/.506 career averages in ten-plus seasons in Japan do not bode well for his success in the Majors. Hideki Matsui was a much better and younger player when he came over, and his .304/.413/.582 Japanese career, also in about ten seasons, has translated into only .292/.371/.477 here. Very good, but not a superstar.

Even Ichiro, as good as he’s been, has lost over 100 points of OPS after crossing the Pacific. A comparable drop for Nomura, even if he is past his injuries, would mean he’ll be about as good as, say, Jose Valentin, whom they already have on the roster. If we’ve learned anything from the influx of Japanese players into MLB, and the records that washed-up MLB players (Tuffy Rhodes, George Arias, Alex Cabrera, etc.) keep setting in the Japanese leagues, it’s that this game is still the hardest around.

Mark my words: Nakamura will not be the answer at 3B for the 2005 Dodgers. I'll be very surprised if he sees more than 200 at-bats, and even more surprised if he hits 15 homers.

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