It's possible that scheduling conflicts will push the sleeper conflict back until tomorrow, but since I promised this for today, here's the text ahead of time:
With all the attention being given to Hideki Matsui, other Japanese stars who might cross the Pacific and join the major leagues are being all but ignored. Perhaps the best of these is Norihiro Nakamura
. The 29-year old third baseman has played his entire career with the Kintetsu Buffaloes and is now a free agent; he is currently making up his mind whether to stay in Japan or sign with an MLB team.
Any team that lands Nakamura will have added an excellent bat to its lineup. Nakamura, who has led Japan's Pacific League in both home runs and runs batted in, finished the 2002 season with 42 home runs and 115 rbi in 140 games, along with a solid .294 average. His defense is only average and he doesn't have much speed, but his bat should make up for those shortcomings. Besides, defense won't worry fantasy owners, and stolen bases probably aren't what you're looking for at the hot corner. If Nakamura does decide to leave Japan, he should be in the top third of major league third basemen.
So far, the New York Mets seem to be the frontrunners for Nakamura's services. With Edgardo Alfonzo no longer in town, the Mets need to plug a hole at third and have already held talks with Nakamura and his agent. This would seem to be a very good match, the only question being whether the Mets have enough payroll flexibility to offer Nakamura a contract equivalent to what he would earn in Japan. The Cubs also seem interested, and San Francisco could be in the mix as well.
Keep a close eye on where Nakamura winds up this offseason. At a time when solid third basemen aren't all that easy to find, he could be an excellent addition to your fantasy roster, at far less of an investment than Hideki Matsui. It would, of course, remain to be seen how well Nakamura can adjust to major league pitching, but thirty homers and a .290 average seems like a realistic estimate.
Hope that helps. Nakamura's certainly a risk, but I like his potential at a relatively shallow position. In fact, I like him so much that I grabbed him last summer for my keeper team...