While Derek Jeter and Cliff Lee hold MLB free agency headlines hostage, the first big moves this offseason are happening halfway across the world, in Japan.The Athletics won the bidding for Japanese right-hander Hisashi Iwakuma, beating AL West rivals Seattle and Texas to the punch. Oakland sent $17 million to Iwakuma’s Japanese team for the right to enter contract negotiations with the 30-year-old. Scouts project him to be a middle of the rotation starter in the Big Leagues.
Meanwhile, Tsuyoshi Nishioka, a 26-year-old middle infielder who hit .346 to win the Pacific League’s batting title, is also seeking a move to America. His Japanese team will soon decide whether it will put him up for auction. Major League teams figure to covet the switch-hitting shortstop-second baseman and he’ll command a heftier bid than Iwakuma did.
Finally, the most-wanted player in Japan, 24-year-old right-hander Yu Darvish, won’t arrive in the United States until 2012, Hardball Talk reports. He’ll be the most sought after Japanese prospect since the Red Sox paid $100 million for the rights to Daisuke Matsuzaka after the 2006 season.
But for all the talk of Japanese prospects, relatively few have had very successful careers in America. Of the 47 players to come over since Hideo Nomo pioneered the move in 1995, just 6 – Nomo, Shigetoshi Hasegawa, Kazuhiro Sasaki, Ichiro Suzuki, Hideki Matsui, Hiroki Kuroda – have had substantial careers.
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