Who is Tsuyoshi Nishioka?
17 Nov 2010 by sirsean
There have recently been several reports that Japanese infielder Tsuyoshi Nishioka will be posted by his current team, the Chiba Lotta Marines, and that the Twins are expected to bid on him.
The path Japanese players have to take to make it over the Pacific can be confusing. While a Japanese team controls a player's rights, they have the option of "posting" him, once he's amassed a certain amount of playing time. (That's why Japanese stars don't make it over to the MLB until they're no longer young.) If the player's contract runs out, he can simply enter MLB free agency and sign with whatever team he wants -- the posting process allows the Japanese team to get money back for a departing player,* and allows the MLB team to negotiate exclusively with the player without having to worry about competition. And yes, that does seem like a very pro-franchise arrangement, which basically screws the Japanese players.
* It's not like they can get draft pick compensation when they lose a star player, like MLB teams can.
The MLB team with the winning bid gets the right to negotiate exclusively with the player. No other MLB team can sign him, or even make an offer. If the player signs a contract, then the MLB team pays the amount of their winning bid to the Japanese team; if the player does not sign, then no money changes hands between teams and the player stays with his Japanese team.
So the question is: who is Tsuyoshi Nishioka, how much should the Twins bid for him, and what kind of contract should he expect to sign?
Listed at 5'11" and 176 pounds, Nishioka is big for a Japanese middle infielder, but not compared to MLB infielders -- JJ Hardy, for example, is 6'2" and 200 pounds.
Nishioka is naturally right handed, and after hitting left handed as an amateur he became a switch hitter upon becoming a professional. He primarily plays shortstop, where his range, apparently, ranks among the Japanese elite; he also has quick reflexes, soft hands, and a strong throwing arm that combine to make him a tantalizing prospect.
In his career, Nishioka has batted .293/.364/.426 in 3111 AB through age 25, including a .346/.423/.482 line in 2010 that won him his first batting title. In addition to leading the league this year in batting average, he also led in games played (144), runs scored (121), hits (206), and total bases (287). Leading the league in games played is promising, since prior to 2010 he'd developed a reputation as injury-prone.
In his younger days he was a speedster, leading the league with 41 steals at age 20 and 33 at age 21, but since then his stolen base totals have dropped into the 20's as his homers have jumped from 3-4 per season up to 11-14 per season.
I don't know how to make the translation between the NPB and MLB, but I've read elsewhere that Japanese baseball is similar to AAA, maybe a little better. Perhaps Nishioka could be expected to hit between .280 and .310, with moderate pop, good speed, and an OBP around .340 to .360 with an SLG around .400, which would make him an excellent offensive shortstop, to go along with elite defense. At just 26 years old, Nishioka could be a pretty valuable commodity.
Nishioka seems like he has the potential to be an elite major league player -- Yahoo Sports asks if he's the next Ichiro -- and would fill an important spot in the middle of the infield and the top of the lineup, as well as inject some much-needed speed into the Twins' offense.
I don't have a great nose for how teams value players these days, so take this estimate with a grain of salt. But Nishioka seems like he could easily be a 3+ WAR player. I wouldn't be at all surprised to see the winning bid exceed $15M, even $20M, and the value of his contract could exceed the posting fee.
Don't Get Your Hopes Up
Will the Twins end up getting Tsuyoshi Nishioka? Probably not. There are too many variables, and it would probably cost too much for a team that, despite jumping up into the large-payroll stratosphere, has serious payroll considerations this year.
Nishioka has stated he'd prefer to play on the West Coast -- that doesn't matter in the posting process, but could make it more difficult to agree to a contract if the Twins win the bidding. Plus, the Red Sox are expected to bid too, and in addition to their deeper pockets, they also have the necessary Japanese translation infrastructure that the Twins lack.
But it's exciting to see the Twins in on a potentially impactful young star from around the globe. And it sure would be fun to be able to root for a guy who looks like he popped right out of an old Japanese video game.
And if you really want to like the guy, watch this commercial.
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