I’ll be the first to admit it. I was one of the more cynical Hanshin Tigers fans when I heard that shortstop Takashi Toritani had his heart set on playing in the major leagues starting in 2015. I mean, who would want a soon-to-be 34 year old who has no experience living, let alone playing, in America? Especially one with little power and little speed? Add on to that a negotiating condition: must be used as a starting member. So today’s Sponichi front cover caught me off guard:
The Toronto Blue Jays are considering offering Toritani a contract to be their starting second baseman? Of course with Jose Reyes firmly (if brittlely) positioned at shortstop, there was no way they could talk about him playing his regular position. However, Toritani showed his versatility in the 2013 World Baseball Classic, playing three infield positions well, including second base.
Since the Jays used 7 different players at second last season (the most regular being now-free agent Munenori Kawasaki, who played 49 games), they are clearly looking for an upgrade. Sponichi mentions that team Pacific Rim scout (and former LA Dodgers GM) Dan Evans watched Toritani play in 10 or so games this season, and liked what he saw. Not only is his defence solid, but he has gotten on base better than 40% of the time for two straight seasons. Obviously, Toritani’s agent, Scott Boras, also has great things to say about his client: “He is so good at stopping anything hit his way, he could play any infield position.”
While other teams have viewed Toritani as a potential utility infielder (i.e. filling in the gaps as injuries and slumps happen), the Jays are the only team so far that has given serious thought to making him a regular fixture in their lineup. Having already signed free agent catcher Russell Martin, and trading for all-star 3B Josh Donaldson and outfielder Michael Saunders, the Blue Jays are looking to be one of the most stacked lineups in the American League next year.
For his part, Toritani has made his stance clear: a contract with a major league club takes precedence over all, even denying the Tigers a chance to negotiate with him: “It’s all in my agents hands now.”
Should the Blue Jays make an offer, Toritani’s days of dreaming about the major leagues could be over. Expect to hear more concrete news about the (former?) Tigers’ captain soon.