Oakland Athletics: Hiroyuki Nakajima Makes A's 2013 AL West Favorites

A's Infield Adds Japanese Import

Yahoo Contributor Network

COMMENTARY | The Oakland A's signing of Japanese shortstop Hiroyuki Nakajima could be the steal of the 2012-2013 MLB off-season and the other piece in the puzzle that makes the A's the favorite to win the AL West.

Nakajima is a high-level import that has incredible knowledge of the position and is joining a team with arguably one of the best young lineups in the majors. He fills a spot that was in mostly taken up in 2012 by mid-season trade acquisition Stephen Drew and before that Cliff Pennington. The latter's bat produced an average of five home runs and 30 RBIs each year but was traded to the Arizona Diamondbacks for outfielder Chris Young and cash not long after the season ended.

Drew hit .250 with five home runs and 16 RBIs in his short time in Oakland, but would have commanded a somewhat hefty price tag to return to Oakland. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, the team paid him a little over $1 million to decline his player option for 2013. CBS reported that Drew signed a one-year, $9.5 million contract with the Boston Red Sox on Dec. 18.

The Chronicle also reported that Nakajima signed a two-year, $6.5 million incentive-laden contract. Nakajima's contract is the most reasonable. Even if he is able to just double Pennington's and Drew's combined numbers in 2012 at the position, he provides stability in the infield if he stays healthy.

Expect the second and third base positions to be won in spring training by either Jemile Weeks, Scott Sizemore or Josh Donaldson. Donaldson filled in well when Brandon Inge was injured in the latter weeks of the regular season, Weeks rebounded well after being demoted to Triple-A Sacramento and Sizemore showed promise in 2011 before being hurt during spring training in 2012.

Don't expect the first base platoon of Chris Carter and Brandon Moss to change. The duo produced solid numbers at the position for the first time in a while and provide home run power, something that A's first baseman in recent years have failed to do.

The overall experience and skill of the infield with Nakajima has to boost the confidence of the pitching staff, which was sixth in the majors in both ERA and WHIP, but had one of the lowest strikeout totals. That means hitters made contact with the ball, but last year's infield along with the A's star-studded outfield of Yoenis Cespedes, Josh Reddick and Coco Crisp helped make the pitching staff that good. It should only improve this year.

The Los Angeles Angels' addition of Josh Hamilton to a powerful lineup has fooled many into thinking that it's the team to beat for a division title. The Texas Rangers had Hamilton and an almost equally as stacked line-up as the Angels' have on paper this year, but Hamilton's glove helped Texas lose the West by dropping a fly-ball that would have ended an A's bases loaded, two-out threat in game No. 162. It instead gave the A's a two-run lead in the game that decided who won the division.

Prior to Hamilton's signing, the A's improved the outfield with the addition of Young from the D'backs and after the fact it bolstered the infield by bringing on Nakajima. Oakland has the gloves and bats to beat the Rangers and Angels for the West. It has done nothing but to make everything but it's bats better.

What other team in the AL West can say it's done that?

Peter Fournier is the San Francisco 49ers columnist for the Fairfield Daily Republic and a prep sports writer for the Santa Rosa Press Democrat. He resides in Northern California. Follow him on Twitter: @P_Fournier

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