The Toronto Blue Jays have reportedly held preliminary discussions with 33-year old Japanese Shortstop Takashi Toritani, who is projected to play Second Base in the Major Leagues next season. A star for the Hanshin Tigers of the Japan Central League and veteran of 11 Nippon Professional Baseball seasons, Toritani has hired super-agent Scott Boras in an effort to make the move to the North American game.
At 5’11, 170lbs, Takashi Toritani was described by Scott Boras as the “Cal Ripken of Japan”, and for good reason. Toritani holds the NPB record for consecutive games played at 1,444, and has not missed a game in nearly a decade.
Early reports out of Japan yesterday indicated that the Blue Jays were interested in Toritani, but the clarity and extent of these reports were limited to the abilities of Google Translate. These reports suggested that the Blue Jays had sent scouts to Japan to watch Takashi Toritani throughout 2014. Now, with further reports from North American sources, it does appear that the Toronto Blue Jays are a real player for Toritani, and a sensible fit, at least in terms of positional need.
So who is Takashi Toritani? A left-handed hitter, he has held the ability to exercise his International Free Agency option since 2012, but just recently decided to do so. A move to the MLB may result in a pay cut from the $3M – $4M he is expected to earn in Japan next season, but the timing of his decision indicates to me that he may want to test his skills against the top talent in the world while still near the top of his own game.
Coming off one of his strongest seasons in 2014, hitting .313 / .406 / .415, Toritani does not bring a great deal of power to the table, but his eye at the plate is encouraging. With 94, 104 and 87 walks in his past three seasons, his patience would be a beneficial attribute for a hitter forced to learn an entire league of new pitchers.
To compare to a known commodity with Blue Jays fans, Munenori Kawasaki posted a career slash line of .294 / .345 / .378 in over nine seasons in Nippon Professional Baseball. Toritani shows a better eye at the plate with greater power than Kawasaki, not to mention his reportedly above-average defensive abilities, but the statistical difference between the two is not as wide as one might expect.
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Takashi Toritani has the unique experience of playing at Koshien Stadium, home of the Hanshin Tigers, which features an all-dirt infield and natural grass outfield. This is rare in the NPB, given that many fields use an artificial turf, which has raised question marks in the past about Japanese fielders struggling with natural grass in the MLB. The usual situation could be reversed here, though, as Toritani’s experience with playing on artificial turf around Japan could mean that the Rogers Centre turf could, for once, play slightly in the Toronto Blue Jays’ favour.
Let’s take a look at his defense, with a clip courtesy of Dodgers Digest‘s in-depth look at Toritani from November:
Now, a look at Toritani’s offense. This highlight reel is a bit biased, of course, given that it is a home run compilation, but this is valuable to get a base understanding of Toritani’s swing and motion at the plate. If nothing else, enjoy the beauty that is NPB league commentary!
Toritani comes without a posting fee, so unlike situations such as Yu Darvish, he will not require to be bid on for his negotiating rights. This should help keep his cost down, but with Scott Boras at the helm of negotiations, nothing will be easy, especially given the very rocky recent history between Boras clients and the Toronto Blue Jays.
In Toronto, Second Base has become a revolving door of half-solutions. Maicer Izturis, Ryan Goins, Devon Travis and Steven Tolleson will all battle for playing time at 2B throughout Spring Training. Although none of the four inspire great confidence in 2014, the element of the unknown with Toritani makes his link to the Blue Jays somewhat unexpected. He will be 34 when the season begins, with zero at-bats against MLB pitching. This hardly screams “the answer”
Then again, the “unknown” forever holds within it the intrigue of something greater. Although a multi-year deal is not something I would jump at, adding Toritani on a relatively cheap contract could help bridge the gap to Devon Travis, who the Blue Jays hope will grab on to the position long-term.
Alex Anthopoulos has indicated that the trade route may become more appealing to the Toronto Blue Jays given the inflated prices on the Free Agent market. Lower-level signings such as this will not change the roster to the extent that is needed, but they could keep the 23rd, 24th and 25th spots on the roster from being dead weight. Regardless of one’s opinion of Alex Anthopoulos, you have to admit: the Toronto Blue Jays leave no stone unturned.