The key to baseball operations these days is market inefficiency — exploiting your opponents' weaknesses and building winning teams in ways no one else has thought of. The teams that stay ahead of the learning curve are the ones that come out on top.
On-base percentage, PitchFX data, advanced defensive metrics — these are the kinds of things that separate middling teams from true contenders. The smart clubs are the ones collecting information and outsmarting everyone else.
For years now, the Red Sox have been at the forefront of utilizing these numbers and changing the way baseball operates. With Theo Epstein calling the shots and Bill James on the payroll as a consultant, they couldn't not be. The Red Sox' brain trust is made up of elite baseball minds, and they know how to stay one step ahead of the rest of the baseball world.
So here's the next step: international scouting.
The Red Sox don't need to outspend the Steinbrenners of the world to remain competitive. They can build winners by finding talent where no one else is looking — and these days, the place to look is overseas.
We've seen it in Cuba — the Red Sox were among the top bidders for Jose Contreras back when he first arrived in the States, they were in the running for Aroldis Chapman this winter and they scored a coup with the signing of Jose Iglesias in 2009. We've seen it in Japan, as well. The Sox have built a pitching staff around the key cogs of Daisuke Matsuzaka, Hideki Okajima and Junichi Tazawa. This is what the Red Sox do: They pile up talent every way they know how.
There are plenty more foreign-born players to whom you'll be introduced in the coming years. Remember the names Felix Doubront, Yamaico Navarro, Che-Hsuan Lin and Randor Bierd, because all of them will play a role in Boston down the road. If there's anything the Red Sox have done right, it's finding talent abroad.
The next target to watch is Hisanori Takahashi. A 34-year-old veteran hurler with the Yomiuri Giants of Nippon Professional Baseball, Takahashi recently announced his intentions to leave Japan after 10 seasons with the Giants, hoping to find a career in the major leagues. Takahashi brings a 79–66 career record, a 3.70 ERA and 1,032 strikeouts to the table — and many think he's got the resume to earn himself a big contract in the major leagues.
"If I didn't have confidence in myself, I wouldn't have made the decision [to pitch in the majors]," Takahashi said in November. "I want to go to a team that needs me. I'd be extremely happy if I'm used as a starter."
The Red Sox might not be able to offer him a starting job right away. They won't guarantee that he'll feel needed in Boston from day one. But there's one thing that Boston can offer, and that's the friendly atmosphere that only a truly international team like the Red Sox can provide.
The Red Sox have worked wonders in recent years with their foreign-born talent, making their international prospects feel wanted and well cared for. So much so, in fact, that many immigrating players have been willing to see their paychecks or their playing time docked to come to Boston. Tazawa, for one, settled on the Red Sox for a lot less money than he could have gotten elsewhere, citing the organization's "very good support system for international players" as a primary reason.
So will the Red Sox' international flavor help them land Takahashi? There's a good chance of it. The Orioles, Dodgers, Mets and Giants are reportedly also interested, but you have to think that Boston is the real favorite. They've earned that status with years of legwork.
The Red Sox have made it clear that they embrace talent from all lands and all walks of life. They've got a welcoming, nurturing atmosphere for players from all over the world. With Hisanori Takahashi, you just might see it pay off.
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