No official announcement has been made yet by the Chiba Lotte Marines, but Joe Christensen of the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports that the Twins have won the bidding for the exclusive negotiating rights to Japanese infielder Tsuyoshi Nishioka.
Ken Rosenthal of FOXSports.com confirms Christensen’s report and quotes a source estimating that the Twins’ winning bid was for around $5.3 million. That gives them 30 days to work out a deal with Nishioka, at which point the posting fee would be refunded if the two sides can’t come to an agreement.
Minnesota has J.J. Hardy under team control for 2011 as an arbitration eligible player, but manager Ron Gardenhire has talked repeatedly about wanting to add more speed to the lineup while specifically mentioning shortstop as somewhere that could be accomplished, and Nishioka certainly fits the bill.
Nishioka won the batting title in Japan this season by hitting .346 and he’s averaged 28 steals per season over the past seven years. However, his pre-2010 track record is far less impressive offensively, as he hit .260 in 2009 and came into the season as a career .280 hitter while never managing more than 15 homers. And while he’s won the Japanese equivalent of the Gold Glove award as both a shortstop and second baseman there are reportedly some questions about his ability to be a full-time shortstop in the majors.
If the Twins can agree to a contract with Nishioka–and that’s far from guaranteed, as the A’s negotiations with Hisashi Iwakuma have shown–then Hardy will likely be trade bait. Minnesota simply non-tendering him is also a possibility, but there are multiple teams in the market for a shortstop and the position’s free agent crop is pretty underwhelming.