October 2, 2012

Tsuyoshi Nishioka asks to be released, gives Twins a $3.25 million refund

No longer on the 40-man roster and destined to spend the final season of his three-year contract in the minors, Tsuyoshi Nishioka understandably decided that he'd rather return to Japan than call Rochester, New York home again. And so after two miserable years spent mostly at Triple-A and on the disabled list Nishioka asked the Twins to release him in exchange for forfeiting the remaining $3.25 million he's owed and they naturally obliged.

There's no doubt that Nishioka did the Twins a favor, as clearing his $3 million salary for 2013 and the $250,000 buyout of his $4 million option for 2014 from the team's books is like free money. He'll likely recoup the $3.25 million and then some back in Japan, where he was a .346-hitting, Gold Glove-winning star before leaving at age 26, so Nishioka tearing up the final season of his deal is more like a win-win situation than a selfless act of charity.

Nishioka wanted out, the Twins had no use for him, and at age 28 he can resume being a highly paid star player back home without having to ride the bus from city to city in the International League for another six months first. While not quite the same situation, a few years ago Kenji Johjima asked out of his contract with the Mariners in order to return to Japan and saved the team $15.8 million.

As for why Nishioka was such a colossal failure ... who knows. Nishioka joins Kaz Matsui as the biggest flops among Japanese hitters coming to the United States, but Ichiro Suzuki and Hideki Matsui became MLB stars, Johjima, Tadahito Iguchi, and Akinori Iwamura became quality regulars, and even Kosuke Fukudome and So Taguchi proved to be useful role players. And this season Norichika Aoki of the Brewers is one of the NL's best rookies.

Aoki arrived with considerably less fanfare than Nishioka, in part because he was four years older and in part because he was coming off a career-worst season in Japan. Whereas the Twins spent a total of $15 million to acquire Nishioka and handed him a starting job, Aoki cost the Brewers just $5 million and entered the season as a bench player. He began starting in mid-May and has hit .285/.352/.433 with 10 homers, 37 doubles, and 28 steals.

Aoki is 30 years old and hit just .292/.358/.360 in Japan last season, so his rookie production is very impressive and certainly unexpected. However, it's worth noting that Aoki's pre-2011 track record included hitting .358 in 2010, .347 in 2009, and .346 in 2008. Nishioka, on the other hand, was much more of a one-year wonder in Japan and his .346 batting average there in 2010 was driven by an insanely high mark on balls in play.

When attempting to project future performance multi-year track records are important in Japan too, although there was no way to predict that Nishioka would hit .215/.267/.236 and, unlike Aoki, he was right in the middle of his prime. Even the most conservative, pessimistic projections for Nishioka suggested he'd be a decent MLB hitter and plenty of people in the comments section here questioned me for projecting he'd hit "only" .275/.335/.375.

Defense is another issue, of course, and after watching Nishioka in the field it's hard to imagine what the Twins ever saw in him. It took Ron Gardenhire literally one week of spring training drills to conclude Nishioka didn't have the arm for shortstop and it took six games (and one Nick Swisher slide) to show he wasn't a fit at second base either. And yet in Japan he won Gold Glove awards at both shortstop and second base.

Nishioka failing with the Twins doesn't "prove" hitters or middle infielders from Japan can't make it in the majors any more than, say, Michael Restovich "proves" hitters from Minnesota can't make it or Brian Dozier "proves" middle infield prospects can't make it. It mostly just proved that Nishioka wasn't MLB material and the Twins erred in their evaluation of a player who also performed considerably worse than anyone could have reasonably expected.

And now at least it was a $12 million mistake instead of a $15 million mistake.

For a lengthy discussion about Nishioka check out this week's "Gleeman and The Geek" episode.


  1. Well, 12 million and whatever value they lost out by dumping Hardy.

    Comment by Tony Wiseau — October 2, 2012 @ 1:01 am

  2. As far as I can tell, Japanese baseball is a far different game of clean slides, empty batting averages, and pitchers who get strikeouts throwing 88mph ‘heat’ up in the zone. It’s seems like a far more complicated market to hunt free agents in.

    Comment by Steve J — October 2, 2012 @ 5:13 am

  3. Maybe Nick Blackburn will hear the news and feel like he owes a refund as well.

    Comment by Brian — October 2, 2012 @ 6:28 am

  4. I honestly feel bad for the guy. From what I’ve heard, he wanted to be good, so it’s not like he was a lump. Too bad for the Twins it didn’t work out. On to the next failure!

    Comment by CBC — October 2, 2012 @ 7:53 am

  5. The Twins are always congratulating themselves for “respecting the game” and “doning things the right way” – in keeping with that mantra, they oughta pay Nishioka his money. A guaranteed contract is a risk on both sides – in this case, the player underperformed and the team wasted money. Are the Twins gonna pay Denard Span more money because he has ‘outperformed’ his contract? Or pay Willingham more? If not, they should pay what they are OBLIGATED to pay Nishioka.
    Nishioka’s willingness to forgo his pay does not give the Twins an excuse to change what they committed to do – pay him! (or give it to charity, at least)

    Comment by George Rownd — October 2, 2012 @ 8:16 am

  6. It’s a sad day in Minnesota. We may not see another player as terrible as Nishiokar again for a long time. “Your candle burned out long before, your legend ever did…”

    Comment by Todd L — October 2, 2012 @ 8:17 am

  7. And another thing… this was not a magnanimous gesture on the part of Nishioka – the Twins forced his hand by burying him in the minors. He likely would not have been on Rochester’s roster next year, which means he wastes a year in AA ball. He is bailing out before his career is damaged beyond repair.
    What message does this send to free agent players? We complain that good players won’t sign here (small market, midwest, etc.) – why should they take a chance if we treat players like this?
    Please Mr. Ryan, reconsider what it really costs the team to save the $3 million…

    Comment by George Rownd — October 2, 2012 @ 8:34 am

  8. Nishioka’s willingness to forgo his pay does not give the Twins an excuse to change what they committed to do – pay him! (or give it to charity, at least)

    But then an honor bound Nishioka would be required to do what he agreed to: stay in the Twins system for another year.

    Clearly neither side is happy with this. Why is there anything wrong with mutual consent to void the remainder of the agreement?

    Comment by Steve J — October 2, 2012 @ 9:34 am

  9. “What message does this send to free agent players? We complain that good players won’t sign here (small market, midwest, etc.) – why should they take a chance if we treat players like this?”

    This is not a personal attack, but it would be one thing if Nishioka got a short leash in which to prove he was a competent MLB.

    2010/11 240 PA .226/.278/.249 Nishi

    2010 288 PA .238/.313/.302 Punto

    2011 231 PA .198/.252/.266 Tolbert

    2011 317 PA .223/.289/.338 Hughes

    This is what happens when you get a reasonable sample in which to prove you are a competent MLB hitter. (All of these are the player’s final season with the Twins)

    The message sent is simple:

    If you OPS in the low .600’s you get DFA/Non tendered.

    If you OPS in the low .500’s… you deserve to be in AA, AAA or in Japan.

    Never mind the hideous defense…

    Comment by Karl — October 2, 2012 @ 11:03 am

  10. The idea that the Twins are obligated to keep him in the Majors is ridiculous. They are living up to their end of the bargain by paying him, but he plays where they direct. If he doesn’t like that arrangement, this is his option, which I think he’s wisely chosen: get out of MN at the price of losing his guaranteed contract. It’s a reasonable settlement for all sides.

    I’m sorry it didn’t work out; I really thought he was going to be a solid defensive player with speed who would hit for a solid average (I never bought into him being a .320 hitter, but I really thought he could be .280 or better with an acceptable OBP but not a lot of power). He turned out to be a complete disaster. Poor on defense (at best), helpless at the plate, and even bad on the bases.

    Hopefully, the Twins will use this additional money to fill a hole in the middle INF in the offseason. The Twins had 4 significant free agent acquisitions last season: Willingham, Doumit, Marquis, and Carroll. 2 were clear successes, 1 looks like an asset but not a starter, and 1 was a total disaster. They need to better that performance to fill holes on this team.

    Comment by Josh — October 2, 2012 @ 11:10 am

  11. “And another thing… this was not a magnanimous gesture on the part of Nishioka – the Twins forced his hand by burying him in the minors.”

    And Nishioka forced the Twins’ hand by demonstrating that he was a terrible baseball player. How could the Twins not “bury” him in the minors? Despite his horrible play in 2011 and his horrible play at Rochester, the Twins brought him up again in 2012. Nishioka responded by going 0 for 12 and making 3 errors in the three games he played. The Twins deserve a f**king medal for the extra opportunities they gave Nishioka, and certainly don’t deserve a lecture about doing the right thing.

    “What message does this send to free agent players?”

    That if you really, really suck, the team won’t keep you in the majors? That if you ask to be let out of your contract because you have been a miserable failure and the money that has been spent on you has been a complete waste, the Twins will take you up on that? I’m pretty much ok with sending those messages.

    Comment by Pedro Munoz — October 2, 2012 @ 12:33 pm

  12. George, how foes this send a bad message to free agents? Nishi was buried in the minors because his performance warranted it. Any player would get that I don’t know he was mistreated? What was one thing he did that warranted a gig in the majors? How exactly was he mistreated?

    Comment by taylor — October 2, 2012 @ 12:36 pm

  13. Sorry on a phone but it should say Any player would get that, I don’t know how he was mistreated

    Comment by taylor — October 2, 2012 @ 12:39 pm

  14. Thanks for the comments, guys…
    Josh – the Twins are not obligated to keep Nishioki in the Majors – indeed, they are not obligated to keep him at all. They are obligated to pay him. They must have better prospects to play at AAA, and they must have players that ought to be run through AA. They should admit they botched his signing and give him his release.
    Steve J – “Mutual consent”? Does anybody really think his agent called Mr. Ryan and offered to walk out on the contract? His agent asked that Nishioka be released, and the Twins said no, he has to stay if he wants to get paid. The team forced him to walk.
    Karl – You will note that this situation (a player walking away from guaranteed money) is very rare – that is because most organizations understand what the legal term “Guaranteed Contract” means – the team owes the player the entire contract, no matter if he gets hurt or is ineffective.
    The entire situation is a mess, but nothing excuses the organization from living up it’s own self-proclaimed high standards.

    Comment by George Rownd — October 2, 2012 @ 12:46 pm

  15. Oh puhleez. Who died and made you arbiter of corporate honor. I agree with everyone else — if Nishi wanted the money, he had to ride the AA bus like everyone else.

    Comment by Dave T — October 2, 2012 @ 1:10 pm

  16. Dave T – I’m not the arbiter of anything – the Twins constantly feed us fans this crap about “respecting the game” and “doing things the right way” – when they have a chance to prove it, they crap out. And why – so Terry Ryan can be a hero to his boss (“I saved you $3 million”…)
    And what good does it do for the team to have Nishioka in the minors – to teach him a lesson? He’d just be taking the spot of a prospect.
    And other players (and their agents) will take note of the Twins behavior in getting rid of him – it was the Twins who wanted to dump him (a good idea) and they shoulda paid him, that’s all I’m saying…

    Comment by George Rownd — October 2, 2012 @ 2:07 pm

  17. Everyone understands what you are saying, that is not the problem. So you can stop repeating yourself.

    The problem is your logic is extremely flawed.

    The Twins are not refusing to pay him. He is refusing to play in the Twins organization. Nishi could have come back in 2013 and been paid $3 million to start in the minors and attempt to prove the last two years were a fluke. He decided he would be better off in Japan.

    What kind of message does that send if the Twins paid him anyways? Feel free not to do your job and then quit, the Twins will pay you anyways?

    Yeah, that would be respectful to the fans and citizens of Minnesota who forked over millions of dollars for a new stadium. Give me a frickn break.

    Not to mention, this exact same situation occurred with Kenji Johjima and the Mariners as Aaron pointed out.

    Comment by Brian — October 2, 2012 @ 5:15 pm

  18. The weird thing in all of this is that Nishioka played a good second base all year for the Red Wings.

    Comment by Crazy Tom in Rochester — October 2, 2012 @ 6:26 pm

  19. The really weird thing is that you actually believe that.

    Comment by ML — October 2, 2012 @ 11:41 pm

  20. “Does anybody really think his agent called Mr. Ryan and offered to walk out on the contract?”

    Yes. I think that is exactly what happened. It is pretty rare, because most players who wash out of the majors with years left on contracts (i.e. Nick Blackburn) don’t have the options that Nishioka and other Japanese players have. Nishioka – like other Japanese wash-outs before him – apparently decided that going home and playing in the majors in Japan – and getting paid well to do it – was a better option than taking his Twins salary and playing in the minors here. Were the Twins hoping he would make that choice? Sure. But they could not make him do it, and his demotion to the minors was the result of his miserable play. It was a bad situation, and it was resolved to everyone’s satisfaction by mutual consent.

    The idea that the Twins have done something wrong by not releasing Nishioka and paying him anyway is absurd. Nishioka isn’t the victim here – the Twins paid him $6M and paid the transfer fee, and got absolutely nothing for it. No one with any clue whatsoever about baseball contracts is going to think less of the Twins for this.

    Comment by Pedro Munoz — October 2, 2012 @ 11:49 pm

  21. Brian’s post (4 above mine) is spot on. Nishioka can’t be under contract with the Twins while playing for another team. Ergo, if he wants to play back in Japan instead of in the minor leagues in the U.S., his contract with the Twins must be voided. If his contract is canceled, there is no obligation to pay him. Beyond that, there’s not even a mechanism to pay him if one was feeling charitable. Logistically, they’d need to give him a new contract as a paid consultant or something to even have him on the payroll and issue him a check. It’s not like these guys get paid in sacks of money with dollar signs on them.

    Comment by thegeneral13 — October 3, 2012 @ 3:42 am

  22. I can’t imagine a more fitting glass-is-half-full epitaph for these two miserable seasons: “at least it was a $12 million mistake instead of a $15 million mistake.” Twins baseball is truly dead.

    Comment by Blasko — October 4, 2012 @ 12:01 am

  23. George:

    Steve J – “Mutual consent”? Does anybody really think his agent called Mr. Ryan and offered to walk out on the contract? His agent asked that Nishioka be released, and the Twins said no, he has to stay if he wants to get paid. The team forced him to walk.

    You have to first understand what ‘consent’ is, which by the argument you give, indicates that you don’t. Quite simply, the Twins could not have possibly voided this contract withouth Nishioka’s consent. period.

    It doesn’t matter that they didn’t offer to pay, and why would they? There is little infield depth in the system at the AA/AAA level and Nishioka was blocking no one of consequence. Had the twins released him with his salary, they still would have had to spend about $50,000 to find a crummy middle infielder to replace him on the organizational charts.

    Comment by Steve J — October 4, 2012 @ 6:04 am

  24. In case you havent heard. I liked Neshek when he pitched for the Twins and wish him well. Our thoughts and prayers for his family in this tough time.


    Comment by Randy Henke — October 4, 2012 @ 8:32 am

Leave a comment