As reported by Joe Christensen, the Twins won the rights to negotiate a contract with Japanese infielder Tsuyoshi Nishioka. They now have a window of 30 days to strike a deal, but they can reclaim their posting fee (an estimated $5.3 million) if no agreement is reached. Nishioka is the current Japanese Pacific League batting champ, and is known mostly for his speed and ability to make contact. If they do sign the 26 year old, they will likely spend something in the neighborhood of $5 million per season over 3 or 4 years (or, even better, Fangraphs seems to think he’ll get $2-3 million per season, which is considerably less than what Orlando Hudson or J.J. Hardy would get).
There is always some risk involved in bringing in Japanese players. For every Ichiro, there are about ten more Kosuke Fukodomes. The risk is especially great for Nishioka, who has struggled with various neck and wrist injuries throughout his career (though he’s very productive when healthy). The key for the Twins will be patience; should they manage to sign Nishioka, they will need to allow him time to adjust to playing in a different league, in an entirely different country, in a vastly different culture. The good news is that the infielders’ skills: speed, decent range, a decent arm at second base, and the ability to make contact, should translate well to MLB. The bad news is that he doesn’t have much power, so he’s sort of like Alexi Casilla with better range and more plate discipline. Nishioka projects to be similar to Chone Figgins or Ryan Theriot, which would automatically make him the most talented infielder in the system.
It will be interesting to see what happens to J.J. Hardy if the Twins manage to sign Nishioka. All indications are that he will be non-tendered and Alexi Casilla will be moved to short, but the Twins might also opt to tender him a contract and then try to trade him. The shortstop market is very thin this season, and at least one other team has seriously inquired about Hardy, so it shouldn’t be too hard to find a taker. If the Twins are really serious about winning the division, though, they should try to find money in the budget to keep them both.
Erin is a contributing writer for Twinkie Talk. You can email her at erinm725 [at] gmail [dot] com.