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Fishing in the Far East

Posted by: Seth Stohs Updated: November 9, 2010 - 7:58 AM

Very early on Monday morning, the agent of Japanese right-handed starting pitcher Hisashi Iwakuma posted in Twitter that the Oakland A's placed the winning big on his client. The news was confirmed by several sources later on Monday morning. Joe Christensen blogged yesterday that he confirmed with Twins GM Bill Smith that the team had indeed placed a bid. Soon, it was reported that the Twins had placed the second-highest bid for Iwakuma's services. Late last night, a report indicated that the A's winning bid was $17 million.

Iwakuma's scouting reports seem rather familiar. He is a 30-year-old right-hander with very good control, who keeps the ball in the ball park, walks few, strikes out enough and can eat innings. That sounds like Mr. Carl Pavano, doesn't it? Or, it sounds like the prototypical Twins pitcher. Most believe that he is probably a #4 starter, although if he can eat innings, there is value in that.

How much value to the Twins? Apparently a lot. I mean, if the A's bid truly was $17 million and the Twins truly finished second, they must have bid somewhere between $10 and $15 million... JUST TO NEGOTIATE WITH IWAKUMA.

That's right, as was the case a few years ago with Daisuke Matsuzaka, the bid is just the payment to Iwakuma's current team for the right to negotiate. My assumption is that Iwakuma could be in line for a four or five year contract worth somewhere around $8-10 million a year.

Because the A's won the bid, it has the feel of a non-story to Twins fans, but I think it says a ton about the Twins offseason plans. Or, if nothing else, it gives us several talking points to blog about and discuss in comment sections!

  • What does this mean for Carl Pavano's future with the Twins? If the Twins were willing to give a team in Japan $10-plus million just to negotiate with a right-handed pitcher, it would be hard to imagine them bringing Pavano back.
  • What does it mean as it relates to acquring other pitchers? In other words, had the Twins won the bid, would that mean no other trades (like for Greinke?) could be made?
  • What does it mean about the future of Scott Baker, Nick Blackburn and Kevin Slowey with the Twins, if anything?
  • The Twins obviously were not in the running for Japanese players such as Ichiro, Hideki Matsui and Matsuzaka for financial reasons when they became available. They didn't go after the likes of Kaz Suzuki, Tadahito Iguchi or other bigger named players from Japan. Even though the Twins finished second in this case, it is clear that they are willing to spend on top talent in the Far East, and that should be encouraging to Twins fans.
  • The fact that the Twins were willing to place a large bid on this player means that they felt they had adequate information on him. What that tells me is that the Twins must have a much larger presence in the Far East in terms of scouts.
  • That isn't to say that the Twins have not had a presence in Asia. Wang-Wei Lin (Taiwan) spent 2010 in Beloit. Hyeong-rok Choi (South Korea) spent time in Elizabethton. In Kyun Kang (South Korea) played for the Twins GCL team.  These are not household names, and to be honest, I don't necessarily believe that any of them will play AA ball for the Twins. Do you remember Tim Henkenjohann or Rodney Gessemann? No? The former pitched in the Twins farm system from 2002-2005. Gessemann pitched in 2007 and then was hurt. Both are from Germany. The Twins signed players from those countries and set roots in the baseball community there. It came to fruition in 2009 when the Twins signed Max Kepler, the top player to ever come out of Germany. The Twins seem to be there in many places in Europe, Australia and in other geographic locations. They still have work to do in the Far East, but they'll get there.
  • All of this brings up the idea of a world-wide draft. How would the dynamics of baseball change if there was even an international draft separate from the current first-year player draft. Would that even the playing field? I'm not convinced. Sure, the Red Sox got Matsuzaka, and the Yankees got Matsui. But the Twins signed Miguel Sano, and the Reds signed Aroldis Chapman. The A's put the high bid on Iwakuma, and a couple of years ago, they gave Michael Inoa the highest signing bonus to a player from the Dominican Republic.
  • MORNING UPDATE - Good morning readers! When I woke up this morning, I realized that I forgot the most important point I meant to make in this blog post. So, thanks to the beauty of editing and online media, I want to correct that. I think that an important discussion is whether the Twins should consider going after a Japanese name player (like Iwakuma) simply to put their name into the minds of many Japanese baseball fans. You have to spend money to make money might be a good cliche to use for this discussion. How many additional Twins jerseys could be sold in Japan? How important would it be to have the Twins name all over the baseball-rich country? It is certainly a point to consider.

This might be a good example of why the TwinsCentric bloggers are going to be blogging here at StarTribune.com all offseason. One little story presented me with several thinkers and/or talkers. Baseball's international market is a very interesting topic, and the Twins increased efforts internationally over the past decade makes it even more interesting.

By the way, we also want to thank everyone for your comments on our four Blueprints from the TwinsCentric Offseason GM Handbook. The offseason certainly creates plenty of free thinking and ideas, and this is a great place to share them. Several other Twins bloggers posted their offseason blueprints too, so if you want to check them out, here they are:

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