November 30, 2010
The Twins were announced as the highest bidder on infielder Tsuyoshi Nishioka last Friday, and now have until the day after Christmas to work out a deal before the 26-year old is returned to Japan. The Twins paid the Chiba Lotte Marines approximately $5.3 million to win exclusive negotiating rights with the reigning batting champ of the Japanese Pacific League. Here are his career stats:
And Nishioka's major league translations:
Aside from the batting title, Nishioka’s BABIP increased .109 points from 2009 to 2010, an “unusual and probably unsustainable spike," according to ESPN’s Keith Law. In Law’s “Buyer’s Guide: Middle Infielders” piece, he writes that Nishioka has an “Ichiro-style half-out-of-the-box, no leverage swing” similar not only to Ichiro but to former Japanese imports like Tadahito Iguchi and Kaz Matsui. Iguchi and Matsui each made World Series appearances, but were both very inconsistent throughout their major-league careers. Nishioka’s a solid base stealer, but his days of swiping 40-plus bags are over.
So where does J.J. Hardy fit into this tale? The Twins envision Nishioka as their starting second baseman, not their starting shortstop, which means the club will likely tender Hardy a contract at Thursday's deadline. Most scouts feel Nishioka is a better fit defensively at second and the Twins cannot afford to lose Hardy’s glove (four runs saved in 2010). Minnesota could man a very strong infield with Nishioka and Hardy up the middle and Justin Morneau and Danny Valencia at the corners.
Unlike the Hisashi Iwakuma situation with Oakland in which the veteran pitcher is asking for far more money than the Athletics are willing to pay, both sides in Nishoka’s case seem to have a clear understanding of one another. Nishioka’s content with the idea of playing second base, and says he would be more than happy to play for a squad that will again compete and contend for an AL Central division title.
Will Minnesota come to terms with Nishioka? And if so, was it the right move by general manager Bill Smith?
Special thanks to Clay Davenport for data assistance.