With his recent trip to the DL, Brandon Wood's misadventure as a starting 3rd baseman in the Majors has gotten to about the lowest point it can possibly get. Discussion about what the Angels should do to rectify this situation has run wild for several weeks. For now, the return of Maicer Izturis seems to offer somewhat of a respite, but he is also needed to backup Erick Aybar and Howie Kendrick, and the Boy King himself may not physically be up to the task of playing 3rd full time. If Wood never turns it around after he comes back, another solution is needed in the long term. Rather than re-hash many of the arguments we've had here recently, I decided it was time to think way outside the box.
I believe a possible answer may be playing right now in Japan. His name is Shuichi Murata.
Who the hell is Shuichi Murata and what the hell are you thinking, Commander_Nate? This may be the question you're asking right about now. I don't blame you, so allow me to explain.
I first heard of Murata during the 2009 World Baseball Classic in which he started in the heart of Japan's lineup at 3rd Base. You can acquaint yourselves via his wikipedia page. I got to see a lot of the '09 WBC thanks to the fact that I was unemployed at the time and the first round games in Asia were on in the morning over here. Murata impressed my roommate and I right off the bat - so much so that we quickly nicknamed him "Home Run Guy" and he became the only non-MLB player on the Japanese team that we recognized along with Yu Darvish. Murata hit a mammoth blast in the first game of the tournament. Everything he hit against the other Asian teams seemed to leave the park or at least reach the track. He would later injure himself in San Diego and have to leave the WBC.
Murata is 29 and it turns out he can rake. You can see his stats on wikipedia and a little more detail here. He's hit .323, with 46 HR and an OPS of 1.062 as recently as 2008, has been in the MVP conversation in Japan and is one of the most prolific power hitters in contempary NPB play. He did have strikeout problems when he came up in 2003, but his OBP has risen markedly and steadily over subsequent years. His 2009 season was shortened by the WBC injury and another injury, but he still managed to do alright in 93 games going .274 with 25 HR and an .870 OPS. Defensively he could use some improvement according to reports I've read, but he is acceptable enough to have a starting job and makes up for it with his bat. One last cool fact about him - he homered against John Lackey in 2006.
I went through the effort of trying to figure out how he might perform if he came over here to the US by trying to use Matsui and Ichiro as comparisons since they are the two most notable Japanese hitters to come to MLB. Needless to say, that was a pain, but here's what I came up with:
Japan: OPS - .980 / BA - .299 / HR - 33
MLB: OPS - .845 / BA - .289 / HR - 24
Change: -135 / -.010 / -9
Japan: OPS - .973 / BA - .329
MLB: OPS - .811 / BA - .333
Change: -.162 / +.004
Murata Career Averages (links already provided)
Japan: OPS - .874 / BA - .270 / HR - 30
My estimates for MLB: OPS - .725 / BA - .260 / HR - 21
Change: - .149 / -.010 / - 9
Both Matsui and Ichiro suffered OPS drops of well over 100 points upon coming to MLB due likely to the higher caliber of pitching over here. Matsui's BA dropped 10 points and his HR numbers also fell significantly. Oddly enough, Ichiro's BA rose by 4 points although I didn't bother to look at his power numbers since he isn't considered a power hitter. I used the average in their drops in OPS to estimate what Murata might do over here. For the power numbers I just mirrored Matsui since he's the only really notable Japanese power hitter to come over here. I don't generally do statistical comparisons and projections of this kind, so forgive me for any errors or absurdities. He seems to be off to a slow start this year, but from what I can tell, he seems to heat up in the second half and he is coming off an injury year.
Why Murata is an option: If my estimates are anything close to accurate and the changes seen in Japanese stars like Ichiro and Matsui can be reasonably expected in those who follow them, then we would essentially wind up with what most of us were hoping Brandon Wood would give the Angels. Hell, it would appear that BA is independent based on who the player is, so for all I know Murata might actually be able to hit for a higher average, he sure seemed like he could in the few WBC games I saw him in. Given the list of free agent 3rd basemen this winter and our need to keep Maicer healthy, our options in MLB or the farm seem limited. I would argue that NPB is largely better than AAA here and comparable to what some of the lower and mid-tier MLB teams currently field. Therefore, I believe Murata is at least as much of an option as anything else available and he's in his prime years, which is always nice. He is also available after 2010.
Furthermore, Murata would appeal to Arte Moreno's desire to expand the Angels' market globally, which was part of the reason for bringing in Hideki Matsui. He is known in Japan and can play 3rd at a high enough level professionally - both things Arte and the Angels seem likely to need going forward. Shuichi Murata could be the next star to come out of Japan and Anaheim seems like a good place for "Home Run Guy" to call home should he be willing to make the journey to America.
How's that for outside the box?