Saturday, November 10, 2012

By Scott Stedman - Columnist

With the end of a disappointing 2012 campaign and the beginning of an off-season filled with needs, the Angels have a busy winter ahead of them.  The thin free agent market will, in all likelihood, inflate prices for players to levels higher than ever.  In fact, we have already seen this with Maicer Izturis signing with the Toronto Blue Jays for 3 years, $10 million.  With this, Jerry Dipoto and the Angels front-office will have to get creative to find solutions with the team’s needs.  My suggestion:  Turn to the International market to plug some of the team’s holes.

Out of Japan, reliever Kyuji Fujikawa has been garnering plenty of interest, even being called “Japan’s Mariano Rivera.”  The 32-year-old had a career 1.36 ERA and 0.85 WHIP for the Hanshin Tigers.  His fastball sits in the 90-94 range, and he throws a forkball and curve ball to keep hitters off-balanced.  The forkball can be especially devastating against lefty-hitters, as it dives down and away at around 82 MPH.  Dipoto has admitted to having interest in Fujikawa, who is free to sign with any team.   A report from the Japanese outlet Sanspo on November 10th indicated that the Angels and Dodgers were viewed as favorites for the 6’0 righty.  Fujikawa is expected to receive a two-to-three year deal in the $10-$15M range.  A back end of the bullpen of Downs, Fujikawa and Frieri would look awfully nice for the Angels in 2013.

Andrew Romine is slated to be the next Maicer Izturis, filling the role of utility infielder for the Angels.  However, he has limited experience at second and third base, and there are serious questions about his bat.  Keeping this in mind, let’s explore three Japanese middle infielders who are coming stateside in 2013.  Hiroyuki Nakajima was posted last year, and was won by the New York Yankees, however they failed to reach an agreement on a contract.  Nakajima has a career .310/.381/.474 line in Japan, playing mostly shortstop.  Major League scouts agree that his bat will most likely play at the big league lever, but they see him more as a second or third baseman.  The 30-year-old is expected to receive a multi-year deal from a MLB team.

Two other infielders, Takashi Toritani and Kensuke Tanaka, are a little rawer than Nakajima but have unique skill sets.  Toritani has played every game since 2005 and his on-base skills are second to none.  In 2012, he hit .268 with a .373 on-base percentage.  However, there are concerns that Toritani may stay in Japan for at least another year.  Kenesuke Tanaka is the definition of a utility infielder.  His glove is by far the best of the three infielders listed, however his bat will offer zero power.  He can hit a little bit, but it will be nearly all singles.  Reports state that the 31-year-old Tanaka is willing to take a minor league deal with a Spring Training invite to chase his dreams in Major League Baseball. 

Finally, out of Korea there are rumblings that star pitcher Suk-min Yoon may be considering a move to the MLB this year.  In 2011, he was the Korean Baseball Organizations’ MVP with a 2.45 ERA and 178 strikeouts.  His fastball sits in the mid 90s, accompanied with a slider and above-average change-up.  Yoon is now 26, but he may need a year in the minors to get adjusted to professional hitters.  At this point, it is unclear if the Scott Boras client will make the leap to the United States this season.

The Angels have some needs to take care of via Free Agency this winter, and they should look internationally to fill those voids.
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