OAKLAND — Oakland Athletics general manager Billy Beane hopes he got another significant addition from the international market.
The A's finalized a $6.5 million, two-year contract with Japanese shortstop Hiroyuki Nakajima on Tuesday, filling a void created by the departures of Cliff Pennington and Stephen Drew.
"There are some things when you're here in Oakland that just feel right. This one felt right," Beane said. "The longer we went on, the more information we got we said let's take a chance on the unknown as opposed to going down the road of the known."
This marks the second straight offseason that Beane has added a prominent international player, with the team having signed Cuban defector Yoenis Cespedes to a $36 million, four-year deal last winter. Beane said there is much more information available about foreign players, making signing them less risky.
If Nakajima can have anywhere the success that Cespedes had as a rookie, the A's would be ecstatic. Cespedes was a major part of the team's surprising season, batting .292 with 23 homers and 82 RBIs to help lead Oakland to the AL West title and first playoff appearance since 2006.
The A's achieved that despite having the lowest payroll in baseball at $59.5 million and they didn't need to break the bank to sign Nakajima. The contract also includes a $5.5 million club option for 2015, but Oakland's top draft pick last year, high school shortstop Addison Russell, could be ready for the majors by then.
Nakajima, 30, is an eight-time All-Star in Japan and a three-time Gold Glove winner. He has a .302 career batting average with 162 homers in 11 seasons with the Pacific League's Seibu Lions. He has hit 20 or more homers in a season four times. He batted .311 with 29 doubles, 13 homers and 74 RBIs in 136 games for the Lions last season.
The A's have had interest in Nakajima for a few years and made their move to fill their most glaring hole.
"The more things we uncovered the longer we got into the winter, the more we realized this was the guy," Beane said. "We were a little concerned early on the competition might make it challenging for us financially. But as pieces started laying down with other clubs and positions were filled, I think that helped us."
Nakajima also has extensive international experience, having participated in both the 2008 Olympics and 2009 World Baseball Classic for Japan. He said he will not play in the upcoming WBC.
Beane said the A's also got strong reports on Nakajima's personality and his ability to fit into a major league clubhouse. Those skills were evident at his opening news conference that Nakajima began with a rehearsed opening statement in English that he said he spent all night preparing.
"Hi Oakland," he began. "My name is Hiroyuki Nakajima but you can call me Hero. I'm honored to be here today and very thankful for everyone coming today. Thank you very much Mr. Beane."
Later in Japanese, Nakajima said through an interpreter that Beane was "extremely sexy and cool," one of his biggest adjustments will be the lack of bathtubs in the United State and said he wanted to learn the "Bernie Lean" dance that was so popular in Oakland last season.
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