Update, Wednesday morning: According to Dylan Hernandez, the Dodgers are Nishioka’s preferred destination. That doesn’t mean they can afford to make it happen, of course.
Ryan Theriot‘s not an option if you’re trying to win. Ivan DeJesus probably isn’t ready (and is still on the board despite 11 names being chosen in the TBLA Dodger prospect voting). Jamey Carroll‘s not an everyday solution. Juan Uribe sounded nice until his playoff heroics almost certainly inflated his price, and the rest of the free agent options at 2B leave you wanting, to say the least.
So who do you play at second base? If there’s not one single good option in the hemisphere, then maybe you expand that search - and it just so happens that this year’s top Japanese position player looking to come to America is 26-year-old middle infielder Tsuyoshi Nishioka.
Playing for the Chiba Lotte Marines, the switch-hitting Nishioka carried a .287/.361/.427 line over 2007-09 before really breaking out this year, putting up a .346/.423/.482 while becoming the first Pacific Leaguer since Ichiro Suzuki to top 200 hits (remember, Japanese teams play 144-game seasons.)
Over at FanGraphs, Patrick Newman (who’s basically the leading American authority on Japanese ball at this point) has some nice background info on Nishioka:
So what kind of player is Nishioka? A pretty good one. Nishioka is coming off of a phenomenal year, which netted him the distinction of being my pick for Pacific League MVP.
Nishioka has two Gold Gloves on his resume, awarded in 2005 (as a second baseman) and 2007 (as a shortstop). My observation is that he really has great range, but his arm is a somewhat below average as a shortstop. Nishioka’s 2010 fielding results illustrate how traditional stats can be misleading — he lead Pacific League shortstops in errors with 19 and finished last in fielding percentage at .972, but he also had more assists (440) and put-outs (222) than anyone else (data taken from this Japanese blog). The fact that he played every inning in 2010 helps his accumulated stats, though. Overall though, Nishioka feels more like a second baseman to me in MLB. And the standard disclaimer about adapting from turf to natural grass applies.
Newman adds that Nishioka has dealt with injuries in the past and that his 2010 line was inflated by a .389 BABIP, so as for his hitting performance…
It will remain to be seen whether his 2010 performance was the result of luck, a genuine step forward, or good health. My guess is that a little of each was involved. Nishioka is not much of a home run threat, but has good speed and will leg out the occasional triple, and swiped 22 bases in 33 attempts last year. Nishioka is a switch hitter, who hit well from both sides of the plate last year (.387 as a righty, .329 as a lefty).
Nishioka has not officially been posted, though multiple sources claim that process will happen this week. When a player is posted, each MLB team submits a blind bid to the Japanese team; the highest bidder is then given 30 days to come to terms on a contract with the player. If that doesn’t happen, the player stays in Japan for another year and no money changes hands.
Clearly, the Dodgers don’t seem like the sort of team that would be paying money just to talk to someone, and perhaps it’s not likely they’ll even think about it. Remember, though; times have changed since the Red Sox paid $51m to talk to Daisuke Matsuzaka in 2007. The economy isn’t nearly what it was, Nishioka isn’t seen as that type of prospect anyway, and high profile posting fees that haven’t paid off (Matsuzaka wasn’t worth that much money, and the Yankees’ signing of Kei Igawa was a complete disaster) in retrospect means that the fee may be lower.
Besides, there’s also the Dodgers’ history with Japanese players to take into account. Along with Seattle (Ichiro, several pitchers), and the Yankees (Hideki Matsui), the Dodgers have been near the top of popular MLB teams in Japan thanks to their experiences with Hideo Nomo, Hiroki Kuroda, and Takashi Saito. MLB teams are unlikely to bid if they don’t think that the player will sign with them, but that won’t be an issue for the Dodgers.
What do you think? I don’t think the Dodgers are likely to pony up, but you’ve got to fill second somehow, right?
Finally, via Vin Scully is my Homeboy, we have Nishioka’s Adidas commercial, “Impossible is Nothing”.