I probably could have come up with a better title than that, but goddamn I love alliteration. As most Toronto Blue Jay fans are aware, there’s been quite a bit of speculation over the last week or so that Alex Anthopoulos may be broadening his horizons to fill the Jays troublesome second base position by looking at Hanshin Tigers shortstop Takashi Toritani.
The always excellent Andrew Stoeten has done great work mining the information out there, including the latest news that Takashi is expected to announce his decision in his next meeting with his current employees. It seems both the Padres and Jays are in the mix, but neither seem willing to go longer than a year and an option.
Considering Hanshin paid him a little north of USD 2.5 million this past year, Toritani may very well be tempted to stay in the NPB. That being said, after 11 years in Japan, TT may want to prove himself elsewhere. Similar to Norichika Aoki, who moved from Japan to Milwaukee in 2011, taking a pretty significant pay cut to do so.
I lived in Japan during the 2010 NPB season and probably got out to between 30 and 40 games, including numerous Hanshin games. So would like be able to give a first hand scouting report in this space. Unfortunately though, given how easy it was to bring alcohol into Jingu Stadium and fact ChuHai is like 9% I was often obliterated during these games. The only Tiger I remember was Matt Murton and that was only because of his flaming red-hair.
So I had to reach out to other sources. One of which I mentioned in a tweet recently:
FWIW: Got a reply from buddy that played in NPB. I asked about Toritani. In a nutshell, he likes Kawasaki more ‘better defender/b.runner’
— Charlie Caskey (@CharlieCaskey) December 14, 2014
The buddy in question is none other than Aaron Guiel (check out his minor league career to see what sort of grind it can be), who played parts of four MLB seasons between K.C. and the Yanks before moving on to the NPB’s Yakult Swallows in 2007. Below is what he said in full, not just what I could squeeze into 140 characters:
‘He’s a really good all-around player, but definitely not an impact player in the States. Decent range, decent arm, decent average with no power. He has a pretty good idea about putting the ball in play and is a smart player.
He’d be very solid, dependable backup anywhere as long as your expectations are tempered somewhat. For their individual roles, I’m a bigger fan of Kawasaki because he’s a better defender and baserunner.
Keep in mind that the last time I saw him play was 2011.’
Unfortunately neither had any inside dirt on the situation (booo), only hearing what we’ve heard already.
Both were a bit more bullish than Aaron on Toritani’s MLB prospects though. Which probably speaks to fact that Guiel left Japan in 2011, prior to Takashi’s two best seasons OBP-wise.
Graczyk believes that Toritani has more power than Muni and is ‘probably more suited to the majors than Kawasaki.’
While Coskrey gave me this:
‘I think Toritani is a better offensive player than Kawasaki. He’s extremely patient at the plate, walks a lot and doesn’t swing at a lot of bad pitches. He doesn’t really have a lot of power, but then again, neither does Munerin. Toritani is usually near the top of the OBP charts most years and is also a pretty good baserunner so there’s that. I also think he probably fields the position (though I’m not sure if he could play SS in the majors) better than Kawasaki, just that Kawasaki might be a little more athletic which helps make up some of the difference.’
I’m cherry-picking a bit here and I’ve yet to find much in the way of advanced metrics for Japanese baseball (a future project) but both the guys I asked, who have seen a lot more of the NPB than I have, while, presumably, far more sober, seem to feel that Toritani may have some success State-side.
For me, aside from the brevity he brought to the clubhouse (disappointingly, Graczyk confirmed in his email that Toritani doesn’t hold a candle to Kawasaki in the comedy department) Munenori’s one redeeming talent was his ability to grind out at bats. Based on the limited stats I’ve checked, it seems Toritani may be even better in that respect. The 87 walks he put up in 2014 was actually his lowest total over the last three years, having led the NPB with 104 in 2013 and 94 in ’12.
The power numbers have dropped quite a bit as Toritani hit his 30s, down 50 odd points from his career highs in 2009 and ’10 when he hit 20 and 19 home runs respectively. One would expect that downward trend to continue if he were to jump to the majors. Making his ability to get on base his primary point of offensive value.
Another positive that can’t be overlooked is Toritani’s durability, having played every game available since 2005!
Defensively, everything you read says Toritani doesn’t have the defensive chops to play short in the major leagues so will need to transition to second. Which is fine as we already have a shortstop who can’t play short. Let’s just hope Takashi can actually play the keystone or that the new Rogers Center turf is REALLY slow.
All in, if we’re looking at a year plus team option at a price that Scrooge McRogers finds palatable (say 3 to 3.5 million) then I don’t see how this would be a bad deal. Maicer Izturis is coming off a season long injury and isn’t particularly good anyway while Devon Travis probably needs a full season of triple-A at bats. It also provides another year of development for the middle infielders in the lower minor leagues, like
Franklin Dawel Lugo and Richard Urena.
Do it double-A (he probably won’t).
(after publishing this article I checked AndrewStoeten.com for any more updates and sure enough, the ‘latest news’ I linked above isn’t quite the latest news. Apparently the San Diego Padres are offering double-T the chance to play his natural position. I would still think money would be the deciding factor but if the offers were even slightly equitable then you would think the San Diego sun and the chance to play short may sway Toritani to the west coast. So there’s that.)