Americans used to be wary of the Japanese; something about a sneak attack on Pearl Harbor or something. People scoffed at those funny little cars that started filling up our streets in the 1970s, but they were eventually accepted. Now Japanese baseball players are commonplace on our shores. But I say teams should remain wary of these latest Japanese imports.
This is a timely warning because a report last week in The Mainichi Daily News (which of course I read faithfully) said that pitcher Yu Darvish (left) is expected to ask his team to make him available to the highest MLB bidder this off-season.
Now, I have never seen Darvish pitch and perhaps he is the greatest pitcher of all time. His statistics are just sick — in seven seasons he is 93-38 with an ERA around 2.00. This season the 25-year-old was 18-6 with a stunning 1.44 ERA. He is the highest-paid Japanese player at around $6.5 million per season.
Teams will be tripping over each other to pay him even more, and that will be after the mega-bucks payment to his Japanese team just for the right to negotiate with him. And that, in my opinion, would be a mistake.
According to Wikipedia, 43 Japanese players have played in the majors through the 2010 season. Just one of them, Ichiro Suzuki, can be considered a superstar (according to me, not Wikipedia). While several players have had nice careers, the only other one who could even be called a star is Hideki Matsui. Only eight have appeared in an All-Star game.
There is always a drop-off of performance. Matsui was called “Godzilla” in Japan for his home run prowess — he hit 50 in his final season there. Here in the United States he has topped 30 just once in nine seasons.
How many players came over here with high hopes and even higher contracts? Let’s not even discuss Kaz Matsui. The Cubs gave Kosuke Fukudome a four-year $48 million contract because he was a power-hitting .300 batter in his native land. Here he’s averaged ten homers a year and cannot even sniff .300.
Then there’s Daisuke Matsuzaka (left), who came over with just as much hoopla as Darvish. The Red Sox won the bidding with their famous $51,111,111.11 offer, then gave him a six-year, $52 million contract. Matsuzaka had one really good season, but overall he has been injury plagued and mediocre.
And what about the Yankees signing of Kei Igawa, perhaps the worst contract in the history of baseball? For their $26 million bid and $20 million contract, the Yankees got 16 games, a 2-4 record and a fitting 6.66 ERA out of Igawa. He’s been buried in the minors for the past three seasons.
I’m not saying Japanese players should not be given a chance to play in the majors, but their gaudy statistics should be taken with a grain of salt. They should not be given multi-year, multi-million dollar contracts until they prove themselves in the U.S. Until then, they should be treated like international signings or draft picks — given a signing bonus of a few million dollars, then the MLB minimum for at least their first season. If their skills translate, then give them the big bucks.
The track record for Japanese players in the U.S. has not been good, yet teams continue to lavish them with big contracts. How often do teams have to be burned until they change their ways?