Friday, November 26, 2010

Twins Win Right to Negotiate

With Tsuyoshi Nishioka


On Thanksgiving Day, we found out that the Chiba Lotte team would hold a press conference to announce whether they would accept the high bid from MLB for the services of middle infielder Tsuyoshi Nishioka. Later last evening, we heard that they were accepting the bid, but that Major League Baseball would be announcing the ‘winner’ today. Well, just minutes ago, we learned that the Minnesota Twins won the right to negotiate with the speedy Japanese infielder thanks to a bid estimated to be $5.3 million. The Twins now have 30 days to negotiate a contract with the player and his representatives. If they reach an agreement, Chiba Lotte will receive $5.3 million from the Twins. If not, the Twins will get the money back.


But since it is much more fun to think positively, let’s for a minute assume that the Twins and Nishioka are able to come to terms. What does it mean? Based on the estimated posting fee, and previous rumors, it is believed that the contract of the 26 year old will be in the neighborhood of $2-3 million for a few years. There was an assumption that if the Twins were awarded Nishioka that JJ Hardy would be gone, but if the actual value of his contract will be just a few million, and Hardy could agree to a deal worth something around $6 million, it is possible that the Twins can keep the still-young, excellent defensive shortstop and keep Alexi Casilla in a utility role. That is important if reports from some indicate the Nishioka is more questionable as a shortstop than as a second baseman. That said, the Twins would be wise to see what the market is for Hardy. It would make no sense to non-tender him since he would instantly become the top shortstop on the market. They should be able to accumulate a few quality prospects for Hardy.


How does an infield of Valencia, Hardy, Nishioka and Morneau sound? I like it!


What do we know about Nishioka? He led the Japanese League in batting average by hitting .346. He was on base over 42% of the time. He has a little bit of power, but the switch-hitter profiles perfectly as a #2 hitter. Twins fans need to caution themselves, however. Nishioka is not Ichiro. He’s not Hideki Matsui in terms of power. But he can do all the things you want a player to do? I think so. I mean, he has shown an ability to hit for average, get on base, have good pop in his bat for a middle infielder, play good defense, has speed. The question now is how does that translate to the Major Leagues. And frankly, no one knows. No one can answer that with 100% certainty. He is just 26. Most players that come over from Japan are nearly 30, so he should be given a little time.


As I mentioned when we heard that the Twins placed a bid on Iwakuma earlier this month, having a presence in Japan is a big deal. If the Twins can negotiate with Nishioka and bring him in, it makes the Twins a name in Japan, and among young players in Japan and all around Asia. Think about how many Twins jerseys with Nishioka or Mauer on the back will be found in Japan? Think about the scouts who have been toiling in Asia, trying to find the diamonds in the rough, who can now go to top level Asian talent and say, “Hi, I represent the Minnesota Twins. Do you have a minute?”


What does it mean for other Twins players? Again, it certainly makes any decisions on JJ Hardy difficult, although there is still no way that non-tendering him makes any sense. Alexi Casilla is still waiting in the wings, wondering if he will be a starting shortstop or a utility infielder again. What about Trevor Plouffe and Luke Hughes? Both were thought to be potentially competing with Casilla for a job, now both likely are competing for a backup infield spot and right-handed bat off the bench. What about someone like Steve Singleton, who has the pop to play but has been left off the 40 man roster each of the last two years? I can only hope, for him, that he is taken by a team in the Rule 5 draft and given a real opportunity for a big league job.


The Twins had just 38 players on their 40 man roster after their decisions last week. If they can get Nishioka signed before the Winter Meetings (starting Dec. 3), they will be at 39 and still have room to work.


I do have to say this for the Twins front office. They have been true to their word. When the team played in Metrodome and had basically no revenues, they made a promise to fans that if there was a new stadium, the payroll would increase with the revenues. Since the announcement of the new stadium, the Twins have gone above and beyond what was previously deemed possible. They locked up Justin Morneau and Joe Nathan to long-term deals. They kept Joe Mauer by extending his contract by eight years and $184 million. They went well over slot to sign Kyle Gibson. They gave $3.15 million to Miguel Sano. And now, they have bid an estimated $5.3 million just to negotiate with a very talented middle infielder from Japan. These are no longer your, ummm… older brother’s Twins!! And how much fun is this?!


But today was only the start. As I said earlier, the Twins and Nishioka’s representatives now have 30 days to work out an agreement. If they are unable to, then this excitement was all of nothing.


So what do you think? Many Twins fans who don’t pay as much attention will wonder about this player they have never heard of. Many of you will be incredibly excited. Where do you stand on this? What are the next steps for the Twins?  Please feel free to e-mail me or leave your comments here.

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