On an occassion on par with Branch Rickey signing Jackie Robinson to a contract in August of 1945, or Roberto Clemente becoming the first Latin player to be elected to the Hall of Fame in 1973, the Washington Nationals announced on Monday that they would venture forth into a brave new world full of peril and mystique. It is full of unknowns – but they will cavalierly march forth for the glimmer of hope that untapped potential lies ahead.
They will start scouting Asian players.
Wait, what’s that you say? Other teams have been doing this for years? It’s not new? Then why the hell did the Nationals wait so long?
All right, so maybe I laid the sarcasm on WAAAAAAAYYYYYY too thick, but come on. For all the talk about competitive imbalances in baseball due to the lack of a salary cap, aren’t oversights like this just as big (if not bigger) a reason? There have already been over 30 Japanese players who have played a big league game. South Korea has produced twelve and Taiwan three. Some of them have gone on to play some top-notch baseball – Ichiro, Hideki Matsui, Takashi Saito, Chien-Ming Wang, etc. And the Nationals just realized that they were missing out. Here’s what Bill Rizzo, Nats VP of Baseball Operations, said about it:
“This is the first time we really went in and saturated (Japan). As time goes by, we’ll build databases and have more information. But we feel like we have a good handle on it.”
Now I understand that a team like the Nationals never really had much of a shot to get players like Hideki Matsui and Daisuke Matsuzaka for financial reasons. But there is one instance where the Nationals can get a leg up on the competition – find a newer, better, version of Mac Suzuki.
Suzuki was the first Japanese player to enter the Major League without having first played a day of professional ball in his home country. He signed with the Mariners in 1993 as an 18-year old and went on to have an otherwise undistinguished career. But I am curious as to why there aren’t more like him. Granted, having the option of playing professionally in Japan and make a pretty good living may seem like the safer bet for many young players. But there must be some viable prospects who would be very interested in skipping this step altogether. With the current value of young talent in MLB, shouldn’t a team such as the Nationals exploit this before the bigger clubs get in on the action?