Saturday, November 27, 2010

Nishioka Time

The Twins yesterday secured exclusive negotiation rights to Japanese infielder Tsuyoshi Nishioka with a winning bid of $5.3 million. This allows them 30 days to reach a contract with Nishioka, and Joe Christensen states that "the Twins should have little trouble closing the deal." Suddenly, it seems certain that Target Field will be welcoming a very new dynamic in the 2011 season.

Nishioka was a breakout star in Japan's Pacific League this past year, capturing the batting title with a .346 average while posting a .423 on-base percentage and 51 extra-base hits for the Chiba Lotte Marines. He's only 26 -- younger than most players who transfer over from Japan -- so the Twins are hoping the strides taken this past season will stick, with Nishioka's prime years still ahead of him.

The switch-hitting Nishioka has developed into a well recognized star in Japan. He was featured in an Adidas "Impossible is Nothing" commercial, in which he states that his goal is for everyone in the world to recognize him as the best shortstop. (Though it's been said he could shift over to second for the Twins, who may not trust his ability to field the position at the highest level.)

From where I stand, this could possibly be a very good move or a very questionable move in terms of how much it helps the team. It's just impossible to make any judgments without more information -- specifically, what Nishioka's contract will look like and whether it will mean the end of J.J. Hardy.

The Twins seem determined to give Alexi Casilla a chance next year, and the notion of a Casilla/Nishioka middle infield carries more question marks than I'm comfortable with. Even in an injury-marred 2010 season, Hardy was always a very competent starter when available. It's important to note that -- despite his stardom in Japan -- there's no guarantee Nishioka will stand out here in the States. (See: Matsui, Kazuo.)

We'll learn more about how this move fits into a bigger plan over the next few weeks, and in due time we can give it the in-depth analysis it deserves. But, in isolation, you've got to love the message that is being sent. The Twins are flexing their financial muscle, outbidding a number of clubs including the Red Sox, who reportedly had a bid "in the mid-$2 million range." This comes just one year after the Twins stole away coveted Latin prospect Miguel Sano with a $3.15 million bonus.

These are, literally, the exact types of aggressive moves I'd hoped to see in the new stadium era. Twins fans once would never have dreamed of seeing their club outbid all others in the expensive pursuit of premium international talent, but now it's happening. This coincides with increased spending in the draft and drastic payroll expansion (there's some talk that the Twins' payroll could balloon to $125 million next year, which would be an increase of about $60 million from Opening Day 2009).

We'll grade out the apparently imminent Nishioka signing when it becomes clear how he fits into the team's plans for 2011. For now, we know that the Twins are probably committing at least $10-15 million to bringing over one of the Pacific League's premier young stars, a move that will instantly make them one of the most popular teams in Japan while bringing a new international flavor to baseball in Minneapolis.


Peter said...

I like it, only when Hardy is brought back. But probably the Twins FO will offer Punto a couple of millions to join Plouffe & Casilla and Hardy will be traded for some bullpen help. Try bullpen from within first! Hardy is a stud.gralind

Anonymous said...

I like the move...even if the guy doesn't become a "star". Minnesota is a place where athletes are allowed to retain more privacy than in other major sports locations and live with less everyday scrutiny - which should be beneficial to the Twins (thank you Minnesota media for not stooping to NY tabloid levels). Target field sellouts are attractive to any foreign players. Selling more Twins jerseys and merchandise in Japan brings in more revenue. A good showing on the Twins behalf will make it easier for the Twins in the future to lure Japanese players. The only question is how bad the kid wants to play in MLB...the situation is about as ideal as it could get.

Anonymous said...

I'd feel more comfortable with Nishioka if he had longer string of success in Japan, rather than just coming off a breakout year. Of course, then he wouldn't be as financially attractive. However, as a fan you gotta like the Twins' new risk-taking attitude.

Anonymous said...

He brings speed, batting average and at a need position. If you want to compare him to Hardy, its a slight risk. But with a huge reward upside. Casilla at 2b and Nishi at SS, could be awesome

Oh, lest I forget ... sign Thome

Matt said...

I like it. The status quo has a huge question, and that's how many "quality starts" Hardy can give you with his health as a big concern.
If Hardy stays, you've got some good depth if Nishioka tanks at 2B.
Still, it's worth the risk if Hardy walks.

Dave said...

I was under the impression that hitting gets worse from Japan to MLB but defense shouldn't. All the experts are worried about Nishi's defense suffering at the high level, but is it all that much harder to play SS in MLB compared to Japan? I mean, Japanese teams put way more balls into the infield and play a lot of small ball with emphasis on speed. Why are grounders harder to field in the MLB, especially against station to station offenses abounding?

Nick N. said...

Dave, it's not that Nishioka's fielding would be worse in the major leagues than in Japan, it's that the standards here are higher. It is intrinsically harder to look great defensively when compared to a more gifted set of peers. Similarly, his speed -- considered very good in Japan, where he was an aggressive base-stealer -- has been called "average" by MLB scouts.

Same Old Story said...

So the Twins offered arb to Hudson, who might take it; are "determined" to bring back Hardy; and spent $5 mil to be able to spent another few mil on a player that would replace Hudson or Hardy. I don't get it. It's great that the Twins are spending money, but doing the MLB-equivalent of "making it rain" at the gent's club doesn't make it wise, or make the team better. They obviously have paid no attention so far to the lessons imparted in the playoffs: their biggest areas of need are starting pitching and RH power. They're going to lose their #2 starter. So, apparently they are fine with having a worse rotation and a near-fatal susceptibility to lefties.

We'll see how the rest of the offseason plays out. But so far it's puzzling at best. But that's what you get when a fan base/organization continues to make excuses for a team's playoff failures - it grants you the luxury of not having to do any real analysis or admit any real shortcomings. Just continue to hum along in oblivion and focus solely on competing in the division. The fanbase is obviously okay with it, why change?

Nick N. said...

They obviously have paid no attention so far to the lessons imparted in the playoffs: their biggest areas of need are starting pitching and RH power.

So you're willing to pay more attention to three games than 162 in analyzing these flaws? The Twins won 94 games in the regular season in spite of these issues, so they probably aren't that debilitating.

Anonymous said...

i would not mind a nishioka/casilla infield (even though i'd prefer retaining hardy). what are some of those question marks that bother you about it?
could the twins still keep hardy just to use him in a trade for a starter? that wouldnt be a bad idea either.

Same Old Story said...

After 12 straight playoff losses, I think it's about time we build a team capable of winning in the playoffs. Contrary to your belief, a team that is better equipped for the playoffs will be better equipped for the regular season, too. Why people seem to think these things are mutually exclusive is baffling. The Twins will face plenty of lefties in the regular season, right? And I'm pretty sure upgrading the rotation is going to benefit the team all season as well. Is this not a simple concept? I suppose as long as you attribute the playoff failures to "luck" it's probably difficult to consider.

Oh well, I don't blame the front office. If the fanbase doesn't put any pressure on you, there's no reason to do things differently, even in the face of historically bad playoff performances.

Nick N. said...

Contrary to your belief, a team that is better equipped for the playoffs will be better equipped for the regular season, too. Why people seem to think these things are mutually exclusive is baffling.

And vice versa. You're the one that seems to think they're mutually exclusive. My opinion is that you build the best team you can and hope they win in both the regular season in the playoffs. No one is saying there aren't areas where the Twins can stand to improve, but those improvements should be made to better the team as a whole, not strictly to increase their odds in a best-of-five postseason series.

I'm also not sure why you're complaining about a lack of moves when it's Nov 29.

After 12 straight playoff losses, I think it's about time we build a team capable of winning in the playoffs.

You don't think that's their goal? You don't think they went out and signed veteran players like Hudson and Thome last year with the hopes that it'd make their team better and enhance their chances of winning in the playoffs? The widely held notion that people in this organization are content with losing in the playoffs is based on nothing other than the fact that they haven't won in the playoffs.

Failure does not always equate to a lack of effort or determination.

Same Old Story said...

This photograph taken after Consecutive Playoff Loss #12 pretty much says all you need to know about the organization's attitude toward the playoffs:

Frank R. said...

I dont agree with same old guy's ramblings, but lets be real, anyone who knows the pohlads or has worked for one of their companies knows that they are businessmen first and foremost, just like there dad. they arent in it to win, they are in it to make money. and they do a fabulous job of that, let me tell you. they've got a palace of a stadium which is a cash cow for them. signing thome at 1.5 mil is simply a smart business move; he's a fan favorite and puts butts in the seats. this japanese guy will put butts in the seats, it gives the asian community someone to root for. i mean come on, the guy might be faster than hudson, but his defense wont be as good and its doubtful he'll hit as good. and how many teams had playoff success cuz of there speed? worked great for the rays this year huh. and the twins arent so dumb as to spend, what, $10 mil for this year alone to get marginally faster and marginally weaker at the plate and in the field, while not spending that money much much wiser? come on. they know what there doing, there going to maximize profits best they know how. but hey, baseballs a business, everyone knows this. just accept it, and cross your fingers that the twins will catch lightning in a bottle next year at the right time, just like the giants this year.

George said...

While I don't have high expectations for Nishioka, as other middle infield types from Japan haven't fared too well over here, as a fan of Japanese baseball I'm kind of excited to finally see a Japanese player on the Twins.

My hope is that Nishioka can play good defense and have good on-base skills. I think you can just about forget any power hitting from him, since Kaz Matsui and Tadahito Iguchi went from being 30+ HR hitting power hitters in Japan to punch-and-judy hitters in MLB. Nishioka was definitely not a power hitter in Japan. If he can get his OBP above .350 and play above average defense at 2B or SS, I think it will be a useful signing.

Same Old Story said...

"You're the one that seems to think they're mutually exclusive."

Um, what? I'm saying the Twins weaknesses last year, which were really magnified in the playoffs, was RH hitting and starting pitching. I'm saying those are their biggest areas of need. I'm saying these will help the team in the regular season AND the postseason. Do you disagree?

Shortstop is not an area of need, and Tadahuchi Nishiwoka instead of JJ Hardy isn't going to help us in the playoffs or the regular season as far as I'm concerned. Just not a smart allocation of dollars at all.

Dave said...

SS isn't an area of need if we sign Hardy. If we don't, without Nishi we are looking at a Plouffe Casilla infield, or worse one that includes Punto. I can see why Gardy wants the kid; good defense, good contact, high OBP, switch hitter, fastish.