There are two Japanese players that the Red Sox have their eye on other than the famed Daisuke Matsuzaka, and we should know by the end of the week who the winning bid was from, which will solve a lot of things – either that team gets him, or Daisuke returns to Japan. The other players of interest are Akinori Iwamura, who was posted yesterday, and Kei Igawa, who will be posted any day.


Iwamura is a natural third baseman who can also “play” second base and center field. A number of teams will be interested in Iwamura, a recurring Japanese Gold Glove winner, to play third. Others will be interested for second base. The Japanese Gold Glove is even more of a farce than the current Gold Glove, but there’s no reason to think that he’s a horrible fielder. Tadahito Iguchi is a solid fielder, but is by no means a dazzler. Iwamura sports a career .961 fielding percentage rating in Japan, which is about 20 errors or so in the major leagues if he played a full slate of games, good for 11th out of all major league third basemen.
Iwamura is 27 years old, which means he is poised to hit his prime, which is generally accepted to be ages 28-32. This may help his bat keep up somewhat with the transition to the major leagues. His career line in Japan was .300/.366/.519. There was a post on Sons of Sam Horn that shows the On Base Plus Slugging percentage shows an average of .218. Iwamura’s career line is .667. Not good. However, his last three seasons have sported a .948 OPS, translating to thereabouts of .730. Given that this includes Kaz Matsui (the first Japanese hitter to utterly fail) let’s just adjust that supposed OPS up a little. Given his prime, the Kaz Matsui correction (not that he won’t be the next version of him, though) … I could see him sporting Tadahito Iguchi numbers, which was an OPS of .780 in his first year in the majors – after a .985 OPS in Japan.
Iwamura is someone the Red Sox should be interested in, but they shouldn’t go all out for him. If he comes over to the majors, he should sign a deal between $4 to $5 million annually, and the posting fee should be at or over $5 million. This means that if the winning bid is $6 million and he signs a three-year deal at $5 million per, that’s a total of $21 million spent, which Brandon Inge (.776 OPS last season with a .960 FPCT last year) should get in free agency anyways. (I understand that Inge is a proven commodity, but he’s here for comparison’s sake.)
Should we get Iwamura? Sure, I don’t have a problem with it as long as we don’t bid crazy numbers or pay crazy dollars for him. If we make a competitive bid that doesn’t blow away everyone, I’m fine with it. $21 million seems like a pretty decent number to bid on a 27-year old who should end up posting an OPS in the mid- to high-.700s.


Another person about to be posted is lefty pitcher Kei Igawa. Igawa, also 27, weighs 212 pounds and won the MVP award, going 20-5 with a 2.80 ERA in 2003. After that, Igawa slipped, and has yet to reach his former dominance. Here are his ERA’s by year, starting in 1999 when he only pitched one game: 6.46, 4.35, 2.67 (first full year), 2.49, 2.80, 3.73, 3.86, 3.11. He became the fifth-fastest pitcher to reach 1,000 strikeouts and has a high of 228 whiffs in 200.1 innings in 2003.
Igawa will also have quite a few teams bidding for him, and he’s also not a bad idea for the Red Sox to look into. The Red Sox are in a funny position of having so much upheaval in their rotation and yet having three starters penned in – Curt Schilling, Tim Wakefield, Jonathan Papelbon. We should definitely proceed under the assumption that Jon Lester won’t pitch in 2007, so Igawa may be a pretty good get. Igawa is hitting his prime, and I would pencil him for somewhere around a 4.50 ERA. Lefties always mature as they get older, and Igawa may have to learn how to start pitching instead of throwing (if he already hasn’t) and he may be a good backend option in the rotation.
Because Iwamura and Igawa will offer solid numbers and come relatively cheap, a lot of teams will be interested. The Red Sox could easily outbid anyone for these two players, but I would caution against sinking so much money into these players – not only because they’re unknown in how they would do in the major leagues, but because sinking a significant amount of money in them and seeing them bust would be a disaster.
Two very cost-efficient, solid ballplayers would go a long way for the Red Sox. If I had to choose, I would go after Iwamura, because I’m a bit leery of Japanese pitchers. There’s really no good reason why I’m leery because of the success of Hideo Nomo, Shigetoshi Hasegawa, and Kazuhiro Sasaki. However, I remember Kazuhisa Ishii and Hideki Irabu. Matsuzaka should excel in the majors, but only the dominant pitchers seem to turn out well.
Iwamura seems like a safer bet, and the stench of Kaz Matsui (no offense to him, though) has been weakened by the success of Iguchi. After Ichiro and Hideki Matsui, it was thought that Japanese hitters could easily succeed, but Kaz Matsui has shown that’s not the case. However, Matsui has a slow bat and an unorthodox stance that could have (and probably is) been his undoing. There’s no such concern with Iwamura, and it would fill a hole easily. This means Pedroia would end up at shortstop, and while that concerns some people, David Eckstein has won two World Series as the shortstop, and he should be a second baseman, so I’m sure we can handle it.
So in the end, I would put forth a competitive offer (but not a “blow the other teams away” offer) for Iwamura, and dabble in Igawa.
On Friday, we’ll look at who could be the next shortstop of Boston, which is looking more and more like Julio Lugo. Toronto and Boston look like they’ll be entering into a showdown for his services.