Toronto Star

Jays still eyeing Japanese shortstop as second-base fix


Since the Blue Jays traded Aaron Hill to the Arizona Diamondbac­ks midway through the 2011season, the club has used 14 different players at second base. The keystone corner has been a revolving door of disappoint­ment and remains the Jays’ only vacancy among the starting nine. With pickings slim on the free-agent market, general manager Alex Anthopoulo­s is apparently looking to Japan to fill the void, specifical­ly to Japanese infielder Takashi Toritani, a 33-year-old shortstop who is considerin­g a jump to the majors after a lengthy career with the Hanshin Tigers of the Japan Central League.

Toritani, who hired notorious baseball agent Scott Boras to guide his transition to the big leagues, is currently mulling offers from the Jays and San Diego Padres, according to Japanese news reports. The Padres are believed to be offering a chance to play shortstop, while in Toronto Toritani would be moved to second, where he played at the 2013 World Baseball Classic. Given his age, Toritani is likely to sign for just one or two years. Since he is a free agent, no posting fee is required to sign him.

The Tigers are reportedly not expecting an answer from their captain and longtime shortstop before the new year.

Toritani is regarded as a steady and durable defender, who may struggle offensivel­y in the majors, but is a patient and discipline­d hitter who has posted a career .372 on-base percentage over 11 seasons with the Tigers and has walked more times than he has struck out the last four seasons.

Earlier this month, Anthopoulo­s told Sportsnet radio host Jeff Blair that the Jays had scouted Toritani “quite a bit” and discussed him internally. “Certainly a guy like that would fit,” the GM said with rare frankness. “We do have an opening from an everyday second-base job . . . So a guy like Toritani is definitely someone that we’ve talked about, we’ve scouted.”

A left-handed hitter, Toritani had the third-highest on-base percentage in the Japan Central League last season and has finished in the top 10 in OBP the last four seasons.

If the Jays don’t sign Toritani or any other free agent, they would likely start the season with some combinatio­n of Ryan Goins and Maicer Izturis at second base.

Of the publicly available scouting reports on Toritani, there is some disagreeme­nt over his potential major-league impact. Count Blue Jays’ broadcaste­r Buck Martinez, who saw Toritani live while doing play-byplay at the 2013 World Baseball Classic, among the skeptical.

“My concern with infielders from Japan is their range and the speed of the ball through the infield,” Martinez wrote to the Star via email. “Major league hitters are stronger and the ball comes off the bat much quicker.”

Martinez, who managed the Jays in 2001 and part of 2002, said there aren’t many examples of Japanese infielders who have successful­ly made the transition to the majors. He pointed to Akinori Iwamura, Tadahito Iguchi and Kaz Matsui, who all made an initial impact, but soon struggled.

“Infielders don’t seem to have the same success as outfielder­s or pitchers,” he wrote, suggesting that the learning curve isn’t as steep for those players. “I think it is a tough transition for middle infielders and might be a big risk.”

 ??  ?? Takashi Toritani, is considerin­g a jump to the majors at 33 after a lengthy career with the Hanshin Tigers.
Takashi Toritani, is considerin­g a jump to the majors at 33 after a lengthy career with the Hanshin Tigers.

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