Chunichi Dragons Sign 1Bman Matt Clark
My few regular readers know that I like to write about the comings and goings of players between Asia and the United States. In that vein, NPB’s Chunichi Dragons just signed Padres’ minor leaguer Matt Clark.
I like this signing for a number of reasons. Clark is young (26 in 2013) and looks like the kind of player who might do well in Japan. He has a career minor league batting average of .282 with a .359 OPS and .853 OPS. Last year, in his second season at AAA Tucson, he hit .290 with a .367 OBP and an .872 OPS. However, he is clearly blocked by Yonder Alonso at the major league level.
Clark has also been remarkably consistent — as a professional, he’s never had an OPS lower than .824 (at AA San Antonio in 2010) or higher than .891 (in half a season at A+ Lake Elsinor in 2009). The biggest knock on Clark is that he strikes out a lot (on average 140 times per 600 plate appearances in his minor league career), which might hurt him given the wider strike zone in Japan.
I’ve long thought that Japanese teams are too hung up on past major league experience as a qualification for playing in NPB because it tends to steer them away from American players who might be best suited to develop into long-term NPB stars. That being said, NPB teams demand that foreign players perform right away and for at least two seasons before they will cut said foreign players any slack in terms of having a down season.
A good example is Jamie D’Antona. He was a 4-A player (too good for AAA but too old or blocked by another player from a reasonable shot at a major league career) signed by the Yakult Swallows in 2009. He had a strong year in 2009 (.276 batting average, .813 OPA), but a less than outstanding season in 2010 (.245 batting average, .771 OPS) due to leg injuries and an inability that year to hit well against right-handed pitchers. Although common sense would suggest that he deserved a third season at age 29 to show that he had adjusted to Japanese baseball, the Swallows (and all the other NPB teams) cut him loose.
One thing I find interesting about this signing is that the Dragons are one of the higher revenue teams in NPB. They signed Clark for $450,000, including signing bonus, for 2013, which is not a lot of money for an American player expected to play every day in Japan.
Matt Clark is young enough and inexperienced enough that he may well experience growing pains in his first couple of seasons in Japan. His relatively low salary may buy him some time at least in his first season in Japan, but history suggests that if he isn’t thumping the ball in his second season, he won’t get a third. That’s really too bad, because Clark looks like the kind of player who could have a long and successful career in NPB if things break right for him.