OAKLAND (CBS / AP) — Oakland Athletics general manager Billy Beane hopes he got another significant addition from the international market.
The A’s finalized a $6.5 million, two-year contract with Japanese shortstop Hiroyuki Nakajima on Tuesday, filling a void created by the departures of Cliff Pennington and Stephen Drew.
“There are some things when you’re here in Oakland that just feel right. This one felt right,” Beane said. “The longer we went on, the more information we got we said let’s take a chance on the unknown as opposed to going down the road of the known.”
This marks the second straight offseason that Beane has added a prominent international player, with the team having signed Cuban defector Yoenis Cespedes to a $36 million, four-year deal last winter. Beane said there is much more information available about foreign players, making signing them less risky.
If Nakajima can have anywhere the success that Cespedes had as a rookie, the A’s would be ecstatic. Cespedes was a major part of the team’s surprising season, batting .292 with 23 homers and 82 RBIs to help lead Oakland to the AL West title and first playoff appearance since 2006.
The A’s achieved that despite having the lowest payroll in baseball at $59.5 million and they didn’t need to break the bank to sign Nakajima. The contract also includes a $5.5 million club option for 2015, but Oakland’s top draft pick last year, high school shortstop Addison Russell, could be ready for the majors by then.
Nakajima, 30, is an eight-time All-Star in Japan and a three-time Gold Glove winner. He has a .302 career batting average with 162 homers in 11 seasons with the Pacific League’s Seibu Lions. He has hit 20 or more homers in a season four times. He batted .311 with 29 doubles, 13 homers and 74 RBIs in 136 games for the Lions last season.
The A’s have had interest in Nakajima for a few years and made their move to fill their most glaring hole.
“The more things we uncovered the longer we got into the winter, the more we realized this was the guy,” Beane said. “We were a little concerned early on the competition might make it challenging for us financially. But as pieces started laying down with other clubs and positions were filled, I think that helped us.”
Nakajima also has extensive international experience, having participated in both the 2008 Olympics and 2009 World Baseball Classic for Japan. He said he will not play in the upcoming WBC.
Beane said the A’s also got strong reports on Nakajima’s personality and his ability to fit into a major league clubhouse. Those skills were evident at his opening news conference that Nakajima began with a rehearsed opening statement in English that he said he spent all night preparing.
“Hi Oakland,” he began. “My name is Hiroyuki Nakajima but you can call me Hero. I’m honored to be here today and very thankful for everyone coming today. Thank you very much Mr. Beane.”
Later in Japanese, Nakajima said through an interpreter that Beane was “extremely sexy and cool,” one of his biggest adjustments will be the lack of bathtubs in the United State and said he wanted to learn the “Bernie Lean” dance that was so popular in Oakland last season.
Nakajima will get a $1.25 million signing bonus and base salaries of $2.25 million next year and $2.5 million in 2014. He can earn up to $1.3 million in performance bonuses next season. Whatever bonuses he earns will be added to his salary in 2014, when he can earn up to $600,000 in bonuses based on playing time. Nakajima could earn as much as $9.2 million his first two years.
There is also a $500,000 buyout if the A’s don’t exercise their option for 2015, and Nakajima will be eligible for free agency at the end of the deal. The contract also includes awards bonuses and various perks including an interpreter, flights to and from Japan and moving expenses.
Nakajima nearly came over to the majors last offseason after the New York Yankees bid $2.5 million for his rights. But Nakajima wanted to play every day so went to the Lions for one more season before becoming a free agent this winter.
“I’m very grateful having made that decision,” he said through an interpreter. “To be wearing an A’s uniform right now, I’m just very excited.”
The A’s got little offensive production at shortstop this year, when Pennington and Drew earned most of the playing time. Oakland’s shortstops collectively batted .203 – second lowest in the majors – with 12 homers and 46 RBIs. The .272 on-base percentage from the team’s shortstops was also lowest in the majors.
The A’s dealt Pennington to Arizona in October in a three-team trade for outfielder Chris Young.
Drew, acquired in a midseason trade with the Diamondbacks, became a free agent when the A’s declined a $10 million mutual option. He agreed to a $9.5 million, one-year deal with Boston this week, a person familiar with the negotiations told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because Drew needed to take a physical before the contract could be finalized.
Oakland also traded outfielder Collin Cowgill to the New York Mets for minor league third baseman Jefry Marte. Nakajima takes Cowgill’s spot on the 40-man roster.
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