Shortstop: JJ Hardy vs Tsuyoshi Nishioka

UPDATED UPDATED UPDATE: The Twitter reports are flying now… Joe Christensen, Ken Rosenthal and Parker Hageman (among others) are keeping up with the news, but the long and short of the situation at 11:00 am CT Friday appears to be that the Twins HAVE won the bidding (for about $5 million) for the rights to negotiate with Nishioka and that the contract could come in at $2-3 million per year on a multi-year contract. If those numbers turn out to be relatively accurate, that’s not an unreasonable financial risk to take, in my opinion. – JC

Early this week, we should find out whether the Twins have posted a successful bid for the rights to negotiate with Japanese 2010 batting champion Tsuyoshi Nishioka, the Chiba Lotte Marines’ shortstop. This is kind of exciting for Twins fans. Our team has never had the money to consider signing significant MLB free agents, much less throw several million dollars at a Japanese team for the rights to pay several million dollars more to the actual player. The Twins are apparently swimming in revenue! So, you ask, why not go get this young Japanese hero?

I’m glad you asked.

Nishioka

We’ve been reading that Gardy and the Twins front office want to add speed to the Twins’ offense. It turns out that it’s kind of hard to hit baseballs out of Target Field. Those hard hit baseballs find lots of room in the gaps for doubles and triples, however. So the braintrust has decided they should add players that hit balls in the gaps and then have the speed to get around the bases quicker. I can’t really argue with this. It’s logical.

Of course, by my logic, they should probably look to upgrade that speed in their own outfield positions so they not only get better results on the bases, but also reduce the chances of opponents’ batted balls finding those wide gaps between the not-so-speedy outfielders the Twins send out to the corner OF positions.

Instead, apparently Gardy and Bill have decided that the upgrade in speed should be made at a position where the team already has one of the best defensive players in the league… shortstop. And since there are absolutely zero speedy shortstops available domestically, they’ve turned their eyes to the Land of the Rising Sun.

On the surface, it makes some sense, I suppose.

Nishioka did win the batting title in 2010 with a .346/.423/.482 split, good for an OPS of .905, and hit 11 home runs. He also stole 22 bases, while playing in all 144 of Chiba Lotte’s regular season games. He’s said to possess a strong arm and above average range at shortstop. He could also play second base if the coaches decide Alexi Casilla is the better shortstop. He’s also only 26 years old, so he could be a member of the Twins’ core group for several years to come. What’s not to like?

Plenty, actually.

Hardy

Let’s start with those stolen bases. He’s averaged about 25 stolen bases a year over the past five years and actually led his league with 41 six years ago. But he’s also been caught stealing about 1/3 of the time. That’s actually a bit above the average throw-out rate for MLB catchers. So you have to ask, do the stolen base totals indicate you’d be upgrading your speed or will he just be running the team out of rallies on a regular basis? In other words… if JJ Hardy attempted 30 steals every year, would he be successful much less than Nishioka would?

Of course, one knock on Hardy is that he’s been injury prone. If he and his bum wrist can’t take the field, what good is he? Let’s go get the guy who plays every day. OK… but that guy may not be Nishioka. While he did play the entire 2010 season, he missed anywhere between 14 and 29 games of each of his other five full seasons with the Marines, with injuries to his hamstring, knee, neck and… wait for it… yes, his wrist.

Don’t get me wrong… Nishioka may turn out to be the next Ichiro and if he does, it would be fun to see him in a Twins uniform. And maybe JJ Hardy will never regain the offensive talent he showed in 2007 and 2008. But finding out if either of those turns out to be the case will come with a cost.

Under the agreement between MLB and Nippon Baseball, once Chiba Lotte posted Nishioka, MLB teams had four days to submit a sealed bid to the Marines for the rights to enter a 30-day negotiating period with the player and his agent. It’s hard to predict what the winning bid might be, but given the lack of top tier middle infield options on the free agent market this off-season, it’s hard to imagine the winning bid being less than $10 million and I won’t be surprised if it’s closer to $15-20 million. [UPDATE: Boy did I miss on that assumption! The actual winning bid was reportedly around or just over a quite affordable $5 million.] That money only gets paid if the winning team eventually signs the player to a contract, however. Any team shelling out that kind of money for negotiating rights is going to want to lock the player up for several years.

If the Twins offer Hardy arbitration, they’ll probably end up negotiating a one-year deal for something between $6-7 million (though the possibility of signing him to a two-year deal for slightly less per year certainly exists). Compare that to the posting fee and multi-year commitment they’d have to make to acquire Nishioka, which would conservatively have to reach $25-30 million over 3-4 years. You have to ask yourself if you realistically should expect enough of an upgrade at the shortstop position to warrant that additional investment. Consider that the money you’re sending to Japan for the posting fee alone could otherwise be spent on bringing Carl Pavano back for 2011. [UPDATE: In addition to the actual $5 million-ish winning bid, early reports also indicate the possibility that salary demands may be somewhat lower than I projected here… if it’s closer to $3 million/year, this becomes a much more reasonably priced “risk” in my opinion. But would it be reasonable enough to ALSO keep Hardy? Stay tuned.]

And it’s not like the Twins stand to profit by selling broadcast rights in Japan… MLB controls all international rights and divides all revenues (broadcast, merchandise, etc.) evenly among the teams. The Twins might get some additional advertising dollars from Japanese companies, but that’s about it.

In addition, while I’m not really a big “team chemistry” guy (I think it’s overrated as a success factor), I do have to wonder how well Nishioka would fit in with the Twins. In 2007, he announced that henceforth he would be listed on the Chiba Lotte roster simply as “Tsuyoshi”. Kind of like “Cher” or “Madonna”. Or that other diva, “Ichiro”.

Nishioka and fiance Tokuzawa

On the other hand… the guy has dated models and even a professional golfer and he’s apparently engaged to model/actress Naoko Tokuzawa, so he’s got that going for him. She’d certainly constitute one of those “Target Field enhancements” the Twins have been talking about if she attends his games. And get this… both Noshioka and Tokuzawa have blogs! (You might want to brush up on your Japanese before you add them to your daily list of “must reads”, though.)

This guy clearly is not short on self-esteem. However, until this past year, it doesn’t look to me like he had the performance to match his ego. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that he chose this year to request that his team post him to MLB. Nor do I think it’s a coincidence that Chiba Lotte agreed to post him this year. They’re selling high and hoping to cash in if one MLB team will overpay for a young player who’s had one good year in an inferior baseball league.

I don’t think that team should be the Twins.

– JC

UPDATE 12/18: Click here to read our post welcoming Tsuyoshi Nishioka to the Twins, now that he’s officially signed with the Twins. – JC

22 thoughts on “Shortstop: JJ Hardy vs Tsuyoshi Nishioka

  1. pass…

    *thrilled to be able to actually get the blog page up and be able to comment so I had to say something… : )

  2. I saw a note today where The A’s broke off talks with a Japanese pitcher (who the Twins bid on, but was beat out by Oakland) because he wants Barry Zito money (what was is 6yr/$125???). It costs the A’s $10 mil just to talk with the dude. The posting system confuses me. LOL

    If Nishioka is a ‘gap’ hitter, I think he could flourish in Target Field with its cavernous alleys. And, while his SB rate may not be good, JJ was pretty slow for a IFer. So just an upgrade in speed (stretching singles to doubles for example) is needed.

    I do love JJ’s defense. boy is he good. But he was never healthy for long stretches and thats a buzzkill

  3. Sorry about the problems with accessing the blog site, jamar (and everyone else). We’ve been having problems with it ourselves. iPage, our webhost, has been a pain in the ass lately. We’re going to be looking in to changing hosts before next season. Their customer support is online, rather than on the phone, but I’m pretty sure the person I’ve been dealing with is “Peggy” from the Discover Card commercial.

    James, just to clarify on the posting system, if the A’s don’t end up signing the Japanese pitcher they won the posting bid on within the 30 day negotiating period, they don’t owe the Japanese team the money they bid for his rights. He simply reverts to his old team and no money is exchanged. That protects the MLB team from having to shell out money to negotiate with someone who turns out to ask for outrageous money.

  4. Pingback: Monday Morning Meanderings « SethSpeaks.net

  5. Great post. I think the key to your post is in the last sentence, “an inferior baseball league.” Now of course Ichiro has been a stellar MLB player after coming from Japan, and his numbers didn’t take a huge dive, but I don’t think we should expect the same from Nishioka. For the sake of argument, if we subtract 10-15% from his offensive numbers, he is still a very good offensive shortstop, batting around .300, but definitely not worth the kind of money it sounds like he would be seeking. If Hardy can stay healthy (admittedly a big “if”), I think it’s more prudent to stick with him for another year, knowing at the least that he will be a great defensive shortstop and, at the most, that he will return to Milwaukee 2008 form, and use that surplus money for Pavano, Thome or someone else.

  6. AW, what I unfortunately neglected to mention in the post is that Nishioka’s career split is pretty Hardy-like. He does have something like a .293 career BA, which is well above JJ’s, but his OBP and SLG numbers are nearly identical to Hardy’s. When you apply that 10% “discount” rate, to account for the level of competition, to his career numbers, instead of just his 2010 stat line, it’s even tougher to see that adding him would be a significant enough upgrade to warrant the cost. As a matter of fact, his 2009 numbers were even below his career offensive stats, so it’s not like he’s been gradually improving year to year. I’m skeptical, obviously.

  7. I am all for keeping Hardy. I do not expect him to play the entire season but think we should be able to squeeze a few more innings out of him in 2011 than in 2010 (if he is brought back). Your point is very good about the posting money, I do feel it could be better used in either bringing back Pavano or making other upgrades to the club. Hardy was pretty solid when healthy last year and not dealing with wrist issues. I don’t think the Twins should give up on him after one year of play….I couldn’t agree more with the point made about upgrading speed in the outfield rather than the infield.

  8. Looks like you folks have all got the stats covered. So I’ll offer some sass to this debate:

    The hair is great (picture the promotional giveaway wig!), but I’d rather have the ‘stache back.

  9. lisa, just think if you combined the Joe-burns, the Pavano-stache, AND the Nishi-wig!

    Who needs bobbleheads?!

  10. Joe’s sideburns + Pavano’s mustache + Nishioka’s hair = totally ready to dress as a Twins sasquatch for next Halloween!

  11. One thing I think is overlooked with Hardy’s wrist problems are that those types of injuries tend to nag for months, but very rarely for more than a season. Sore wrists make it hard to connect when hitting and I don’t see why a health Hardy doesn’t put out a .750 OPS or better.

  12. If Nishioka won the SS job over Hardy, Would he be the Twins first Japanese player to actually play in a game? (I thought the Twins *had* a Japanese player on the roster.)

  13. I don’t remember any Japanese players in the Twins organization. I know they have Wang-Wei Lin from Taiwan and In-Kyun Kang from South Korea in the low minors, but they’ve not historically been real active scouting and signing players out of Asia. That’s one reason this sudden interest in a couple of Japanese players is uncharacteristic. Of course, until now, they simply didn’t have the funds to spend on the “posting” system before they even get to negotiate with the player and his agent.

    I guess we’ll find out in the next few days whether there’s any point in discussing “Nishi” any further. I’ve read that various teams decided NOT to post on him, but not much concrete on who DID post. Perhaps the Red Sox and supposedly not the Orioles or Giants.

  14. the wig idea is hilarious, but as of this year he has “matured” and now keeps his shit short and black. but i have a suspicion that it was part of the deal with him becoming team captain, and right away he started scolding other players who had long dyed hair. i think moving to the majors we will see him revert to his flashy ways. but i am hoping that being the new guy will calm down his prima donna attitude. i’m a Marines fan, and i think the guy is just an average playing weasle. i was hoping a NL team i didn’t like would bid on him so i wouldn’t have to see him very often. with the press confrence coming soon, i really hope the highest bid doesn’t go to the Twins.

  15. Thanks for the insight from a Marines fan, kim. I keep reading about what a prima donna Nishioka is and it’s hard for me to imagine a personality like that fitting in the Twins’ (or just about any MLB team) clubhouse. On the other hand, Nishi may not be aware of some long standing locker room “traditions” that players have for dealing with guys who get out of line. He may want to check his jock for “liquid heat” and don’t be surprised if he gets that hair dipped in a toilet before being taped, head-to-toe, to a foul pole.

    In any event, it sounds like we’ll find out from MLB offices today which team won the posting bid.

  16. I was in the process of doing just exactly that when you posted your comments, jamar, thanks!

    Better make a note to pack our Japanese/English dictionaries for the next Spring Training trip!

  17. Put Tsuyoshi at 2B. Tender Hardy and keep him at SS. Casilla on the bench as a utility player to be used as needed, either if someone is hurt, or simply needs a day off.

    The only reason I can think of to cut Hardy loose is if Orlando Hudson accepts arbitration.

  18. Pronunciation guide …. Suh-yo-she Knee-she-o-kah :)

    p.s. there is speculation that the arbitration offer to Hudson was one of the “gentleman’s agreement” kind…

  19. Pingback: TwinsTakes.com » Blog Archive » My TwinsTakes on the 2011 Minnesota Twins – Season Preview – LET’S PLAY BALL!!!