As Blue Jays fan favourite Munenori Kawasaki makes the move to Chicago, we look at what exactly the Cubs have gotten themselves in to
Blue Jays second baseman Munenori Kawasaki sat, paced, joked, danced, jumped, and cheered during the 2015 post season. He did everything for the Toronto Blue Jays except play in a playoff game. Kawasaki was OK with that. He was still helping the team, and that was his job as a backup player. Do whatever was asked, play when needed. Otherwise sit and wait, and wait….
Kawasaki, a member of the Blue Jays for the past three seasons, was not on the Blue Jays playoff rosters, having his spot taken by Cliff Pennington. If Kawasaki was disappointed, he didn’t show it. He remained the consummate team player, cheering his team on, and his swallowing of a lungful of victory cigar smoke! Ah, Kawasaki, you are indeed loved by the Jays faithful. Sadly, Kawasaki has decided to take his skills (and show) to the Chicago Cubs.
The beginning of the end came on December 11th when the Blue Jays signed Darwin Barney to a one-year $1.050 million MLB contract. Then the Jays claimed pitcher Joe Biagini in the Rule V Draft and he was given number 66. Umm, that’s Kawasaki’s number!
His agent made it known that Kawasaki was seeking an MLB contract and the Blue Jays apparently approached Kawasaki about a contract (likely a fourth consecutive MiLB contract with an invite to spring training). The Chicago Cubs do have a great team with talented infielders, but with the pitchers having to bat in the NL and the bench flexibility that brings, Kawasaki felt his chance to help this club was better than that in Toronto.
Munenori Kawasaki is no longer the all-star infielder he was in Japan, but he will bring enthusiasm, grinding at bats, a better-than-average fielding, and fun to a Cubs squad. Especially one under the rule of Joe Maddon. Some think he is nothing more than a glorified mascot, a cheerleader with limited talent. Stats claim otherwise.
Before Kawasaki, the Jays fanbase had another loveable bench-player named John McDonald. Offensively, McDonald and Kawasaki carry light bats and have similar offensive numbers, with McDonald having more pop (if that’s possible) and Kawasaki being a slightly better overall hitter.
Now, John McDonald, the proverbial Minister of Defence, provided the Jays and their fans with countless highlight-reel defensive plays. And while his range exceeds that of Kawasaki at second and short, Kawasaki’s fielding percentage and versatility brought an underrated level of value. Kawasaki sports a career .983 fielding percentage at second, .985 at short, and .960 at third base. Those who say Kawasaki can’t field are sadly mistaken.
Another comparison can be made between Kawasaki and new Jay Darwin Barney, former Gold Glove second baseman (for the Cubs no less), and returnee to the Jays, having played a few games as insurance after the Tulowitzki injury at the end of the 2015 season.
Barney is a more accomplished second baseman, of course, with a Gold Glove under his belt, but he has less than 200 career innings playing shortstop and third base, compared to Kawasaki’s almost 900 innings.
Barney is a career .246 hitter with a .294 OBP, while Kawasaki comes in as a .234 hitter and a .314 OBP, and has fared especially well as an offensive sub. Past that, both are not much as threats to steal bases, but are decent base runners. Kawasaki had a 3.59 pitches to per plate appearance, compared to Barney’s 3.43. Career-wise, Kawasaki manages to grind out more at bats.
When it comes to small-ball and the much loved (and often hated) sacrifice bunt, both Barney and Kawasaki produced 2 each last season. It should be noted that Kawasaki led the Jays in 2014 with eight sacrifice bunts (22nd in the league), and again in 2013 with 10 sac-bunts (ranking 12th in the league), and this was as a call-up player! The most Barney has produced was 4 back in 2013 while playing full time for the Cubs.
It should also be pointed out that in 2091 career plate appearances by Barney, he has managed 18 sacrifice hits and 13 sacrifice flies. Kawasaki on the other hand, in only 712 career plate appearances (just over one third of Barney’s PA) has produced 22 sacrifice hits and four sac-flies.
Needless to say, it is clear that Kawasaki is more than merely a mascot and he is able to maximize his apparently limited talent. Cubs fans will embrace him and take him for what he is, whether it be a farm hand call-up or the 25th player. He can play the infield, pinch hit and run, or even lay down a sac bunt. And when not playing, he will be right there cheering on his team…the Chicago Cubs.