PHOENIX — The Diamondbacks have an interest in Seibu Lions shortstop Hiroyuki Nakajima.
Nakajima visited the D-backs’ facilities at Chase Field this week, although it may have been more of an information-gathering exercise. Negotiations are not believed to have started, and a D-backs source said it is unlikely that the team will make any move, at shortstop or otherwise, before the start of the Winter Meetings on Dec. 3.
Nakajima, 30, is a free agent, eligible to sign with anyone, and the D-backs saw him play during their organizational visit to Japan in August. President/CEO Derrick Hall, general manager Kevin Towers and senior advisor Bob Gebhard were among the front office members on the trip.
The New York Yankees paid Seibu a $2 million posting fee after the 2011 season for the exclusive major league negotiating rights to Nakajima, but the sides failed to reach agreement on a contract last winter and Nakajima returned to Seibu. There he hit .311 with 29 doubles, 13 home runs and 74 RBI.
The D-backs do not have to pay another posting fee, since it is a one-time move.
Cliff Pennington is penciled in as the D-backs’ shortstop after being acquired from Oakland in the three-team deal on Nov. 20. That’s when they also acquired Heath Bell from Miami and sent center fielder Chris Young to the A’s, but the D-backs continue to investigate the shortstop market.
A major league source familiar with the D-backs said the team is looking at “several options.” Willie Bloomquist and John McDonald remain in the mix, although the D-backs appear to prefer Bloomquist in a handyman role moving forward.
Nakajima, a right-handed hitter, joined the Japanese professional league in 2003 and has spent all but one of his 10 professional seasons with Seibu, where he had 16 home runs and a career-high 100 RBI in 2011. He has four 20-homer seasons and three 20-stolen base seasons.
Nakajima is a four-time All-Star and played on the 2009 Japanese team which won the World Baseball Classic, getting two doubles and two RBI in a 9-4 semifinal victory over Team USA. Nakajima won a Gold Glove in 2008, and also has played third base.
Japanese infield contemporaries Munenori Kawasaki and Tsuyoshi Nishioka have had a difficult adjustment to the US game in recent years.
Kawasaki, 31, hit .192 in 61 games with Seattle last season, his first in the majors after signing a one-year contract for $625,000. Nishioka hit .226 with Minnesota in 2011 and was released in September after playing only three games in the majors last year. Nishioka, 28, signed a two-year, $6 million with Minnesota before the 2011 season.