Known as the "Japanese Iron Man" due to his record of playing 398 consecutive games without missing a single inning at shortstop, Takashi Toritani recently decided to activate his international free agent option, making him a free agent eligible to be signed by domestic and foreign teams. According to Mike Vorkunov, the Mets are keeping tabs on Toritani, as they are for fellow shortstop Jung-Ho Kang, in an effort to be active in the international market this offseason.
As I profiled back in November, Toritani has had a very successful eleven-year career with the Hanshin Tigers. The winner of a great deal of hardware, including Best-Nine and Golden Glove Awards, the Hamura native is a career .285/.372/.412 hitter. Perhaps more important than his actual numbers, he is a smart hitter. According to Yakult Swallows pitcher Tony Barnette, "As a pitcher, you try to mix it up with him. He's a smart hitter who will pick up a pattern. When I face him, I try to give him the best I have to offer and, once I release the ball, I hope he gets himself out. Hitters like him rarely get beat by pitchers. The reason he gets out is because he mis-hits the ball."
While Toritani has a modicum of power and speed on the basepaths, his main strength is his eye at the plate. His name is regularly at the top of Central League leaders in unintentional walks; in 2013, he led the league in walks with 104, one more than Wladamir Balentien, who experienced a record-breaking power surge and hit 60 home runs, breaking Sadaharu Oh's previous record of 55, set in 1964.
Toritani has a reputation for being a very capable defensive infielder, though in 2012, an MLB scout stated that, "If an MLB team does decide to take him, I don't know if he'll be used as a shortstop. Maybe second base, maybe elsewhere." He possesses good average range, and has a strong throwing arm. How exactly his defensive abilities are going to translate from Nippon Professional Baseball to Major League Baseball is anyone's guess, but Toritani has one thing working in his favor at the very least: The Tigers' home field, historic Koshien Stadium, is one of two stadiums in Japan that are outdoors and feature natural grass. Because the transition from playing primarily on artificial turf to primarily on natural grass has been cited as a difficulty for other Japanese infielders in the past, Toritani might already have an advantage and could avoid a pitfall that has plagued most of his predecessors.
The market for the 33-year-old has yet to really materialize, but that does not mean that the veteran shortstop will sign for pennies on the dollar. He made roughly $3 million in the 2014 season and could very easily make a similar amount if he decided to re-sign with Hanshin or sign with a new NPB team. His advanced age will certainly limit the length of any contract that he receives, but it's unlikely that the veteran will agree to a salary much lower than what he could make back in Japan.
The Mets are currently considering Wilmer Flores as the frontrunner to get the bulk of playing time at shortstop, but that could change if the team acquires another player. Takashi Toritani, admittedly, will have just as many question marks surrounding him, but he could undoubtedly help the Mets if he is able to play in the United States as he did in Japan.