Yankees fans will remember Hiroyuki Nakajima. He’s the Japanese infielder who, last year, was posted by the Seibu Lions and whose negotiation rights were won by the Yankees. The team and player couldn’t come to an agreement, however, so Nakajima returned to the NPB and Seibu. He had a good year too, hitting .311/.382/.451 with 13 home runs, 74 RBI and seven stolen bases.
But now he’s an unrestricted free agent and he’s looking to come to Major League Baseball once again. Patrick Newman reports:
Last year when the Yankees were taking to him, the go-to comp was Tsuyoshi Nishioka. Which isn’t the most inspiring thing in the world. But man, there is no way this guy can be that bad. No one can, right?
Released by the Twins two months ago after agreeing to forfeit the final $3.25 million of his contract, Tsuyoshi Nishioka has returned to Japan by signing a two-year contract with the Hanshin Tigers.
Nishioka was a huge bust in Minnesota, hitting .215 with a .503 OPS while playing terrible defense at both shortstop and second base, and spent most of his two seasons on the disabled list or at Triple-A.
However, before signing with the Twins he was a star in Japan, winning the batting title and a Gold Glove award during his final season there, and Nishioka returns at age 28. His contract is reportedly worth 600 million yen, which is the equivalent of around 7.5 million dollars. If that’s accurate, Nishioka will make more in Japan than he would have in America.
After watching Tsuyoshi Nishioka hit and field terribly for 68 games last season and look even worse this spring the Twins announced that they’re sending him to Triple-A with two years and $6.25 million remaining on his contract.
Toss in the $3 million he made last season and the $5.25 million they paid for his exclusive negotiating rights from Japan and Nishioka is a $14.5 million bust who may never make it back to the majors at age 27. And he was truly that awful, hitting .226 with zero homers and a .527 OPS while being overmatched at both second base and shortstop.
In theory this gives him an opportunity to get his career back on track against lesser competition and with less of a spotlight on his performance, but that will only help in the long run if Nishioka is a major-league player and … to say the jury is still out on that doesn’t give the jurors much credit for seeing the obvious.
What makes the decision to invest $14 million and a starting job in Nishioka last offseason even worse is that the Twins dumped J.J. Hardy to make room for him in the budget and on the field. And then Hardy, who was traded to Baltimore for a pair of mediocre minor-league relievers, smacked 30 homers for the Orioles and signed a three-year, $22 million extension.
And now Nishioka will be the highest-paid player–and most likely nowhere near the best player–in the International League.
Milwaukee secured exclusive negotiating rights to Norichika Aoki with a $2.5 million bid, but before talking contract with the Japanese outfielder they wanted to get a first-hand look at him.
According to Tom Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that will happen this weekend in Arizona, where the Brewers will put Aoki through what general manager Doug Melvin called “a private workout.”
Presumably the Brewers scouted Aoki in Japan on a regular basis before submitting a $2.5 million bid for his negotiating rights and there’s only so much that can be learned from putting a player through some drills in person, but it’s surprising that teams haven’t requested similar workouts before signing Japanese players in the past.
Last offseason, for instance, the Twins committed $15 million to signing Tsuyoshi Nishioka and then within 48 hours of him showing up at spring training they were talking publicly about his lack of arm strength and unfamiliarity with some key aspects of middle infield defense.
Ryan Braun’s looming 50-game suspension could make the Brewers more motivated to sign Aoki, who’s a three-time batting champion in Japan and projects as a high-average, low-power hitter. He’s primarily been a center fielder in Japan, but would be an option to fill in for Braun in left field.
Milwaukee placed the high bid for exclusive negotiating rights to Norichika Aoki and Ken Rosenthal of FOXSports.com reports that the Brewers plan to work out the Japanese center fielder before deciding what type of contract to offer him.
Evaluating a player in person, on your terms, seems like an obvious thing for teams to do before investing millions in someone, but in the past that typically hasn’t been the case with Japanese imports.
For instance, last offseason the Twins bid $5 million for Tsuyoshi Nishioka and then signed him to a three-year, $9 million deal, only to realize almost immediately once he arrived at spring training that he didn’t have the arm to play shortstop well and didn’t know how to properly turn double plays as a second baseman.
If the Brewers aren’t impressed by Aoki’s workout and end up not signing him during the 30-day negotiating window their $2.5 million bid would be refunded. He lacks power, but the speedy 30-year-old is a career .329 hitter and three-time batting champion in Japan.