Chuck 'n' Duck

"I'm a very optimistic person. When you're optimistic, the good opportunities, good fortune, good everything will come with it." - Jae Seo Chuck 'n' Duck: the New York Mets from an Eternal Optimist's P.O.V.

Friday, November 04, 2005

Kenji NOjima

After reading Jon Heyman's recent article about Minaya's offseason plan, I immediately found something to write about.

Here's the deal: I get very excited about Japanese baseball players, and I really don't know why. The Mets have consistently brought over guys, trumpeting them as one of the best players in the Eastern hemisphere, and they've then gone about consistently burning the Mets. The list of players the Mets have brought over from Japan reads like this:

Timo Perez
Masato Yoshii
Tsuyoshi Shinjo
Kazuo Matsui
Takashi Kashiwada
Satoru Komiyama
Dae Sung Koo

So, in that group we've had a number five starter who didn't embarass himself, a fourth and a fifth outfielder, an expensive bust and three lousy relievers. Not exactly an awe-inspiring group of guys. And that's not even taking into consideration Kazuhisa Ishii.

And it's not like players that come from Japan can't play: Ichiro Suzuki and Hideki Matsui have an MVP, a Rookie of the Year, and seven All Star appearences between them. And Tadahito Iguchi came over this year just to prove that Kaz Matsui really was that bad.

But, still, the Mets consistently bring these guys over, and whether it be the Mets international scouting department, the pressure of New York' spotlight, or just a AAA level of talent, these guys don't perform up to expectations. And yet, everytime I hear there's a Japanese player the Mets are interested in, I get all excited, waiting for our Japanese player that's going to break the cycle and play great baseball. And, while I hold out hope for Daisuke Matsuzaka cracking the Mets rotation in 2007, I must declare this:

Kenji Jojima would be a huge, huge mistake.

Having been a pitcher the better part of my scholastic life, I know what it's like to have a relationship with a catcher -- and I can not possibly imagine how I would go about my daily routine with one if I was entirely unable to communicate with him. A lot of people think catcher is a guy who just sticks down one finger for a fastball or two for a curve, but that's just not the way it is. The catcher is essientailly the leader of the team. He's the guy who's calling your pitches, who's repositioning the infield, who's talking to the umpire about where his strikezone is, and is in charge of knowing about a hitter's strengths and weaknesses -- it's just not a position for somebody who speaks no English and has never played with any of the hitters in the division, the league, or in all of baseball.

Ask any casual baseball fan what the most important position is, and I guarantee you more often than not you'll get "Catcher" as your answer. So, the Mets are considering handing that over to Kenji Jojima -- a guy who's insisting on being a starting catcher or he's not signing? I don't think so.

Bengie Molina and Ramon Hernandez have flaws, absolutely. But they're both solid and respected catchers who -- most importantly -- speak English and can call a ball game. And they're also in a free agent market where two, maybe three teams, are looking for starting catchers. Immediately, these guys should have propelled to the top of the Offseason To-Do List.

This has nothing to do with Jojima's offense. Apparently, he's a .300/30/100 hitter in Japan as well as a nice defensive catcher. That's all well and good in Japan. But if he's refusing to accept a backup role -- which is what has been reported -- then the Mets need to let the dream die and wish him the best of luck.

But, in my mind, this has mistake written all over it.