March 22, 2012

Twins demote $14.5 million flop Tsuyoshi Nishioka to Triple-A

This time last spring there was genuine excitement surrounding Tsuyoshi Nishioka, but one year, one broken leg, and 68 terrible games later the Twins demoted their $14.5 million investment to Triple-A. Nishioka was a colossal failure and reportedly showed no signs of improvement early in camp, but I'm still surprised that the Twins demoted him as part of the second round of cuts and did so without an obvious in-house utility infielder alternative.

Expectations for Nishioka were inflated by winning the Japanese batting title in 2010 with a .346 average, but that was fueled by an unsustainable .395 mark on balls in play and his prior track record wasn't nearly as impressive. With that said, based on his career numbers my "optimistic" projection for Nishioka was .275/.335/.375 and as a 26-year-old Gold Glove winner at both shortstop and second base he seemed likely to be a mediocre regular at worst.

Instead he was simply the worst, hitting .226/.278/.249 with horrible defense that included no idea how to turn a double play as a second baseman and not enough arm strength to make routine plays as a shortstop. In retrospect it's hard to fathom how the Twins could have scouted him extensively and concluded that he was worth $14.5 million, and that mistake was compounded by trading J.J. Hardy for pennies on the dollar to make room for Nishioka.

In addition to a fluky batting average Nishioka's lack of power, questionable arm strength, and the fact that Kaz Matsui was an awful shortstop despite winning multiple Gold Glove awards in Japan were all obvious red flags for his transition to the majors. However, at the time my problem with the Hardy-for-Nishioka swap was far more about misguidedly dumping Hardy than about signing Nishioka to what seemed like a fairly reasonable, albeit risky, deal.

Of course, those decisions can't be undone and the $14.5 million is a sunk cost, so sending Nishioka to the minors makes sense whether the Twins think he still has a chance to be a useful role player or they simply don't want anything to do with him. Either way he'll get plenty of playing time at various positions in Rochester while making $3 million and the Twins owe him another $3 million for 2013, plus a $250,000 buyout of a $4 million option for 2014.

As for who'll take Nishioka's place on the roster, assuming the Twins carry 12 pitchers that leaves just four bench spots and three of them are reserved for Trevor Plouffe, Luke Hughes, and either Drew Butera or J.R. Towles. Plouffe played shortstop for seven seasons in the minors, but was so bad there as a rookie that the Twins are committed to using him strictly in the outfield. Hughes is a poor defender at second base who has no business at shortstop.

All of which means the Twins need someone capable of playing shortstop for that final bench spot, although it's possible they could treat starting second baseman Alexi Casilla as the de facto backup shortstop behind Jamey Carroll and then use Hughes at second base whenever Casilla is needed at shortstop. That could work, at least in the short term, although when your starting shortstop is 38 years old having a true backup on the roster seems like a better idea.

Brian Dozier is the only decent upper-minors middle infield prospect in the entire system and the Twins haven't been shy about talking him up, but he's yet to play an inning at Triple-A and has just 78 games above Single-A. Dozier is already old for a prospect at 25, so furthering his development and suppressing his service time perhaps aren't as important as usual, but it would certainly be very uncharacteristic for the Twins to call him up to fill a part-time role.

Instead the better plan would be to let Dozier spend two months at Triple-A while the Twins find out if they're contenders and give the final bench spot to a true utility infielder who can handle shortstop defensively and is more suited for sporadic playing time as a backup. Ideally the Twins should have a few in-house options who fit that description, but Pedro Florimon and Michael Hollimon are probably the closest fits and neither warrants a big-league job.

Typically near the end of spring training teams try to pass players through waivers while setting their 40-man roster and making decisions on non-roster invitees, so the Twins should be able to snag a decent utility man off waivers or acquire one in a minor trade. It's not a role that requires much beyond a solid glove, so I'd let a a non-prospect keep the spot warm while Dozier hopefully thrives in Rochester, where his double-play partner would be ... Nishioka.

  • http://jszym2write@yahoo.com jfs

    aaron—-one of the contributing writers at this site mentioned this week that utility infielder elliot johnson of tampa bay may hit the waiver wire soon. certainly he’s not much of a bat, but appears to be a very good defender. he’s out of options. probably a very good fit for the twins. why not try to pass hughes through waivers (then send him to rochester) and sign johnson? also, how versatile is sean burroughs? he seems decent at the corners, but can he play the middle infield?

  • http://www.nealpolister.com neal polister

    You know, I highly doubt the Twins are going to be anything close to “competitive” this season, which is OK, it’s all in cycles. One of the true joys for me is seeing a young group of players, some of whom will stick long term and some who obviously won’t, play through a season and see what they can do. At least then there’s an upside versus the Jamey Carrolls (who I actually like under the right circumstances and for the right role) and you’re giving the young guys the real ML experience under (relatively) lower pressure situation (i.e., not in a pennant race). I’d love to watch Dozier, Benson, Parmalee, some of the young pitchers; Hendriks, Guerra, Gutierrez, Waldrop take their “lumps” this summer so at least we know we’re gaining some experience and there is some upside to watch for…not likely to happen and I’m definitely not convinced Gardy is the manager I’d want handling tha kind of effort but just the same….

  • spoofbonser

    man, its hard to not keep pounding the proverbial dead horse in the room, WHAT WERE THEY THINKING IN DUMPING HARDY! Jim Souhan would have told you that they needed someone who could stay on the field, he had no problem with the move nor did any other newspaper or radio guy or any front office people (at least publicly).

    Now it is all the same old spin doctoring about Joe Vavra and Hardy needing to fix his swing. In other words, the Twins wanted to, out of the kindness of their heart, help JJ Hardy fix his swing so he could go revive his career elsewhere, how nice of them. Can nobody in that whole circle acknowledge that his glove is and has always been really great? Now we are told that is all they really are after, “someone who can catch and throw.”

    so dumb.

  • spoofbonser

    worst trade ever.

  • Brian

    I would love to see the Twins try out the youth movement this year – Dozier, Parmalee, Revere, Benson in the field and Hendricks in the rotation. It seems that they have made moves this offseason to add “veteran presence” instead (especially Carroll and Marquis), with an idea that they could still compete in the AL Central. It seems unlikely that they will be playing for anything other than 2nd place, due to the poor quality of the division.

    Baker’s recent injury concerns piled on top of the uncertainty surrounding the core of Mauer, Morneau and Span really make me wonder if they’ll be any better than last year.

  • Christian

    Best picture ever though – nice work.

  • Pedro Munoz

    I have moved past the incredibly stupid signing of Nishioka, and am feeling good about the fact that the Twins sent him down. He is not part of the long term plan, so don’t waste major league playing time on him. Cut bait.

    Speaking of stupid signings, when does Capps lose the closer job to Perkins? I predict no later than June 1.

  • Jeff H

    spoofbonser – It is a dead horse, but we can beat it some more. The way they treated J.J. Hardy was exactly the way they dumped Adam Everett: “Whoops, an injury-plagued season from a white guy at SS…see ya!” Except Hardy had legitimate 20 HR power from his track record, whereas Everett could never hit (and was always hurt). What makes it even more frustrating is that they didn’t HAVE to dump Hardy to clear room for Nishioka, because Nishioka started as a 2B instead of SS anyway. So it was really Casilla vs. Nishioka for the 2B job, and while Gardy obviously isn’t the biggest Casilla guy, he’d actually be a pretty good utility infielder/pinch hitter-runner off the bench. Makes no sense.

    I’m relieved that Nishioka was sent down. I think when you have a guy imploding that badly at a key position, it’s hard to think that it doesn’t have a chain effect on other players. You have to be able to trust your teammates on defense, and I don’t see how anyone could trust Nishioka last year.

    Completely agree on Aaron’s take that they should look for a veteran glove-only shortstop, and that it shouldn’t cost much. If they don’t do it immediately, however, I don’t think it’s a critical concern because Casilla can play SS decently and in an emergency situation, Plouffe could do it for a few innings. They also have 3 guys that could play 2B (Carroll, Casilla, and Hughes). What we’re ignoring here is that CARROLL should have been the guy in the utility role and they should have gone and found a better option at one of the middle infield positions to replace Nishioka. But oh well.

  • thegeneral13

    The “youth movement” is exciting when you’re calling up building blocks, but the Twins don’t have building blocks in the upper minors, they have complementary players. A collection of those guys wins maybe 60-65 games on its own and is dreadful to watch, and the novelty of Chris Parmelee will wear off sometime between his 1st and 2000th PA of a .720 OPS. The only reason to turn these guys loose and not look for veteran upgrades is if you are giving up on contention and trying to save money in a rebuild, which is premature given the possibility of a bounceback from what is still a potentially very good core (Mauer, Morneau, Span, Liriano, Baker). Carroll, Willingham, and Doumit are, in aggregate, a massive upgrade over “the kids” (though Marquis is a waste of space). You should’t pass on those upgrades just to find out who the next Matt Tolbert or Brian Bass is.

  • Jake

    I feel like this is Moneyball and Gleeman is that fat kid from superbad who is now skinny. I mean he keeps criticizing these moves based on basic statistical analysis and is right almost every time.

    The Twins front office is absolutely running the franchise into the ground. That and injuries. Seriously every big trade or contract that the Twins are involved in ends up being a horrificly bad deal.

  • ltwedt

    “Aaron—-one of the contributing writers at this site mentioned this week that utility infielder elliot johnson of tampa bay may hit the waiver wire soon. certainly he’s not much of a bat, but appears to be a very good defender. he’s out of options. probably a very good fit for the twins” . . .

    Sounds like the reason that he’s a good fit for the Twins is because he’s ‘not much os a bat. . . ” ROFLMFAO

  • Larry

    Was that picture from Zoolander?

  • Stan Francisco

    I’m sure having takes a bad picture now and then. It’s just a split second in time.

  • Rick

    Why would the Twins need Butera or Towles with Mauer and Doumit on the roster? Why do the continue to waste roster spots on 12th pitchers and 3rd catchers?