Sources: Nakajima explores alternatives

Japanese infielder Hiroyuki Nakajima may find unique avenue to major leagues

If Japanese infielder Hiroyuki Nakajima does not want to play for the New York Yankees, there still might be a way for him to join a major-league team next season.

The Yankees could work a sign-and-trade involving Nakajima — an idea that the player’s U.S. agent, Greg Genske, has broached with the club, major-league sources say.

The Yankees won exclusive negotiating rights to Nakajima in the posting process on Dec. 7, reportedly with a bid of $2.5 million. If they do not reach agreement with him on a contract within 30 days, he will return to his Japanese club, the Seibu Lions, and become an unrestricted international free agent after next season.

That would not necessarily be a bad option for Nakajima, but a sign-and-trade could get him to the majors immediately. The Yankees would sign Nakajima to a contract, then trade him to another major-league club. The Giants and Cubs are among the teams that like Nakajima, sources say.

Nakajima, 29, is open to all possibilities, sources said. While he wants to play every day, he also is intrigued by the idea of playing for the Yankees, even in a backup role.

The Yankees, meanwhile, bid for Nakajima with the idea that he could be an asset, a quality backup to second baseman Robinson Cano and especially shortstop Derek Jeter and third baseman Alex Rodriguez.

They do not necessarily want to trade him.

If the Yankees have Nakajima and Eduardo Nunez, they likely would not re-sign Eric Chavez, who at 34 is older than both. Club officials like Nakajima’s versatility, and his makeup is said to be “off the charts.”

A rival scout who covers Japan also praised Nakajima’s makeup, saying the infielder displayed the same kind of will and toughness as former Yankees outfielder Hideki Matsui, one of the most successful Japanese position players to appear in the majors.

“This kid wants to play baseball,” the scout said. “He’s not going to take Jeter’s place, but he’s capable of being an everyday shortstop in the big leagues.”

The scout projects Nakajima as a .270-.280 hitter who will drive in runs and use his instincts to steal bases, despite being a below-average runner. He lacks arm strength at short, but has great hands, very good range to his left and hangs in on the double play, the scout said.

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