Toronto Blue Jays Make Mistake on Munenori Kawasaki
The Blue Jays decided not to exercise their $1 million option on back-up middle infielder Munenori Kawasaki yesterday. It seems quite clearly to be a mistake on the Jays’ part.
Kawasaki is a week hitter (.229 last year) with no power, but because of his ability to get on base (.326 OBP last year), his base running and his defense, fangraphs valued his contribution to the 2013 Blue Jays at $4 million, based on a WAR of 0.8. Baseball Reference values his contributions even higher, giving Kawasaki a WAR of 1.3.
Kawasaki will be 33 next year, but I doubt he’ll hit much less than he did in 2013, now that he has significant experience hitting against major league pitching.
The Blue Jays’ decision not to lock him in another season for a cool million, which in today’s game is peanuts for any major leaguer with value, is a surprise. In fact, Kawasaki looks a lot like John McDonald, a light hitting but sweet fielding middle infielder the Jays’ kept on their bench for roughly six seasons from 2005 through 2011. McDonald may have been an even better defender than Kawasaki, but he had an on-base percentage over .300 only once in his many seasons for the Jays.
The Jays may be hoping to bring Kawasaki back on a minor league deal, but I have to think another team will give him a $1 million contract that’s guaranteed. In fact, I’d be very surprised if an NPB team didn’t offer him at least that much to return to Japan. His last team, the Softbank Hawks, paid Munenori 240 million yen in 2011 his last year in Japan, which at the time was probably worth a little more than $2.5 million. His NPB value isn’t likely to have declined below $1 million (100 million yen) now that he has some MLB experience under his belt.
Of course, it also invites the question why he left Japan in the first place, since he took a substantial pay cut (down to $625,000) to play for the Seattle Mariners in 2012. It may have been as simple as the fact that he wanted to prove himself against the best and that if he did so, he’d get big MLB contracts. It may also have to due with the fact that many veteran Japanese players get tired of the strict and long (in season and out) training regimens of NPB teams and the greater interference by teams in their personal lives. Many veteran Japanese players greatly appreciate the fact that in MLB they are trusted to know what they need to do to get themselves in playing shape.
Kawasaki reportedly wants to remain in MLB, but simple finances may force a return to Japan.