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Land Of The Rising Sun?

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Hiroyuki Nakajima takes a cut in the Japanese League. Image by boomer 44 and used under terms of a Creative Commons license.
The Front Office Made Quick Work Of Trading Chris Young And Acquiring Heath Bell, They Still Need Help At SS — And A Japanese Free Agent Is On Their Radar

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By Bob Goodwood
Modern Times Magazine

Nov. 14, 2012 — It has been a heck of an off-season for the Arizona Diamondbacks — and its not even Thanksgiving yet if anyone has forgotten. But it is likely that one more big splash will happen between now and January.

Trading Chris Young, and acquiring Heath Bell and Cliff Pennington before the World Series ended hit the Phoenix market like a bomb made of feathers.

Common wisdom held that the team had one too many outfielders and Young was the least economical piece relative to his production. And, everyone knows strengthening the bullpen was a virtual lock considering General Manager Kevin Towers’ belief that it is virtually impossible to have too many good arms in relief. So, it was not necessarily surprising that those moves happened, but that they happened when they did.

They happened so quickly, in fact, that there wasn’t even one rumor of Justin Upton being traded yet.

Lost in the moves are the contributions Young made to the team in his six seasons in the desert. Sure, this guy made millions in exchange for a lifetime .239 average, a couple of years of infield pop-outs and sporadic flashes of greatness. But he was part of two pennant winning teams — Justin Upton and Miguel Montero were the only other carryovers from the 2007 squad.

But the fact remains that if he came back, Young would have been in a contract year and if he played through the season the team likely would have gotten nothing for him. Young would have likely been a free agent since the D-backs probably would not have picked up the 2014 option on his contract. By trading him now, and netting Bell and Cliff Pennington, they turned one something into several somethings.

So thanks Chris Young, and hopefully you eventually don’t end up playing in the NL West one day, ala Carlos Gonzalez.

The addition of Heath Bell puts the D-backs bullpen in the conversation as one of the strongest in the game next year — as long as everyone stays healthy.

Indications from MLB scuttlebutt experts (i.e. Ken Rosenthal et. al) are that the D-backs are not done. Rumors have swirled that Justin Upton might get traded — the third year in a row fans have had to hear this — but there is no reason to believe it this time, either.

The other big rumor out there is that Trevor Bauer is on the block because of his attitude and ineffectiveness in a handful of starts last summer. It might be true that the D-backs are listening, because executives like Kevin Towers will listen to every offer, even if it is to scoff at it. But team President Derrick Hall has said Bauer has been working to repair the bridges he almost burned down last year. The rumor mill has it that Bauer rubbed Miguel Montero the wrong way last year — along with some in the front office — with his unwillingness to move away from his “way” of doing things. Specifically, his pre-game workout routine and the way he attacks hitters at the major league level.

And, to be honest, when he gave a reporter from the Arizona Republic a treatise of sorts on how he attacks hitters, he needed to rework that approach because hitters then knew how to attack him.

Ultimately, though, they will not give up on Bauer quite yet. Even if he fails in the rotation because he is too stubborn, he might make a great late-inning guy or a closer — which might not be a bad way to solve the starting rotation logjam that is sure to bollocks up the major league rotation in a couple of years.

The biggest move that the Arizona Diamondbacks might be making in the next two months, though, is signing a little known shortstop from Japan to keep the spot warm while Chris Owings gets a couple more years of development.

Hiroyuki Nakajima, a 30-year-old veteran, hit .311 last year for the Seibu Lions. He's won two gold gloves. The Yankees won the rights to negotiate with him last year but lost on him when they couldn’t agree to contract terms and because of the fact that there is a guy named Jeter who isn’t ready to give up that spot in the Bronx just yet.

Owings is just 20, and although he took a step back last year — batting .262 in 69 games for AA Mobile after being promoted from A Visalia — he is still two or three years away from being ‘really’ ready. Coincidentally, that length of time happens to be about the length of a contract it will take to get Nakajima — two to three years at around $3 million to $5 million a year.

The Oakland Athletics are believed to be the only other team sincerely interested in Nakajima especially since they don’t think they are going to be able to sign Stephen Drew.

Sounds familiar.

The D-backs do have options at shortstop besides Nakajima, though. They could trade Upton (unlikely), or they could go with Pennington, Willie Bloomquist and John McDonald. By adding Nakajima to the mix, they might have to dispatch one of those options, but if the team is seriously looking to make it to the playoffs next year, it would be nice to hedge all bets.

It will undoubtedly remain a surprising off-season for the D-backs.

And, if they are able to sign Nakajima, it might explain their in-season trip to Japan — including Seibu — last summer. Towers told the New York Times just before he, Hall and others took the trip that they were interested in Nakajima.

If Nakajima has any level of success with the D-backs, he might net the team at least their money back in endorsements.

As fans, let's just be glad we won’t have to hear Mark Grace — although we all will miss his homespun, Caray-esque broadcasting talents — belting out ‘Knack-A-Gee-Ma’ a few thousand times next season.

But then again, if the D-backs falter, that might have been the best thing to look forward to.

Is it March yet?

Bob Goodwood can be reached at bob.goodwood@yahoo.com.
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