There's nothing better than a mysterious international free agent. You think you have all your rosterbatory fantasies for the offseason, and then an unknown talent appears out of the ether, his talent level restricted only by your imagination. This would partly explain the fervor over Yoenis Cespedes, who could be a healthy Grady Sizemore in his prime if you want to believe.
It begins anew. Kind of. Norichika Aoki, a center fielder from the Yakult Swallows, will be posted and become available for major-league teams to bid on. Here's something to get you pumped up about him, from NPB Tracker:
From 1994-2000, Ichiro was the undisputed best hitter in Japan. After he left for Seattle, Hideki Matsui took over as Japan’s consensus batting king. After Matsui’s reign, you’d have to go with Nobuhiko Matsunaka, until 2005 when Norichika Aoki emerged. It’s hard to argue who was better in ’05, but in 2006 Aoki took over the title and has held it ever since.
I'll take four, please. Problem is that the above was written in 2009. Aoki had a fantastic 2010, but his last year, well ...
Aoki had a down year in 2011, hitting .292 with just four homers and eight steals. CAA sports attributed Aoki's off-2011 season to being distracted by the earthquake and tsunami's effects on his hometown and adjusting a new ball.
Not sure about the psychological reasons for a down year, but it is worth noting that the entire NPB went through their version of 1968. A .292 average was good for seventh in the Central League last season.
Aoki is a switch-hitter, whose value is usually tied to his batting average. But while he hit only four home runs last year, he has hit twenty in a season before. His career slash line before 2011 was .336/.411/.472. It's also worth nothing that he's won the equivalent of the NPB Gold Glove from 2006-2010. No word if there's a complementary Japanese Rafael Palmeiro who makes a mockery of that system too.
The posting system will require that an interested team will have to submit a blind bid to the Yakult Swallows just to negotiate with Aoki. The highest bid then gets exclusive rights to the free agent. In 2006, the Red Sox bid just over $51 million for the rights to negotiate with Daisuke Matsuzaka, and then signed him to a six-year, $52 million deal.
Based on everything I've read -- which isn't a ton -- Aoki seems like a Denard Span type, where his average and position will dictate just how good he is. Unless he's an Ichiro type. Or unless he's a Kaz Matsui type. Heck, I don't know how to evaluate NPB stats or players. He's a player you should want for your team, but only if he turns out to be really, really, really good and stuff.