The Tsuyoshi Nishioka era in Minnesota is over.
A much-hyped player before coming to America, Nishioka was a standout for the Chiba Lotte Marines in his home country. From 2003-'10, he hit .293, had 911 hits (55 home runs) and 300 RBI with two stolen bases.
His play did not transfer to the majors, however, and he requested his release yesterday.
Here are a couple takeaways from his career in Minnesota.
First of all, this was a Bill Smith move.
While placing all the blame for the Twins' downfall on the maligned GM may be a little harsh, it must be noted that this confirms that three key moves he made did not work out:
The Johan Santana Trade
In return for the two-time Cy Young winner, Minnesota got Carlos Gomez (later traded to Milwaukee), Phil Humber (that guy who randomly threw a perfect game for the…White Sox?!?), Deolis Guerra and Kevin Mulvey (minor leaguers).
The Wilson Ramos Trade
A hard-hitting catcher who would be a perfect fit behind the dish for the Twins, Ramos was dealt, along with another minor leaguer, for closer Matt Capps.
Sure, the Joe Nathan era had ended and Joe Mauer’s knee troubles had yet to emerge, but this ended up being pretty lopsided in Washington's favor—even though Ramos has been both kidnapped and injured since joining the Nats.
The Nishioka Experiment
This makes it a triple-whammy.
Right now, the team is getting by with Pedro Florimon and, earlier in the year, Brian Dozier.
They will recover from it, but it was costly…
International bid on Nishioka: $5.3 million
Three-year contract: $9 million (plus a 25k buyout)
Money retained by releasing him: $3.25 million
Seeing a player choose happiness over money: Priceless
Yes, that’s right, Nishioka could have pocketed $3.25 million, but said that he was not happy with the current situation and asked for a release.
“At this time, I have made the decision that it is time to part ways,” he said in a statement (via ESPN.com).
“I have no regrets and know that only through struggle can a person grow stronger. I appreciate all the support the team and the fans in Minnesota and Rochester have shown me.”
It should be noted that Nishioka suffered a serious injury early in his career.
That meant 60 days on the disabled list.
From La Velle E. Neal of the Minneapolis Star Tribune: "Nishioka missed 60 games, and never recovered. He didn't seem to have the same speed he had before the injury, and missed out on time to get to know the league and its pitchers. It was a huge setback."
Also, Nishioka did not speak English.
He used a Japanese translator to address the media.
Furthermore, during times of trouble, players often consult one another in the locker room. While it’s possible Nishi could speak enough English to get through everyday activity, it’s not hard to believe that he had trouble discussing bigger issues with his teammates while he was struggling.
On top of everything else that was happening to Nishioka in his second year, he reportedly divorced his wife, supermodel Naoko Tokuzawa, after the two celebrated the birth of their first child.
This was another bad baseball move that bridges the Santana trade and the Nishioka deal.
Minnesota dealt Gomez, the last notable piece from the Santana trade, for Hardy in 2009. The shortstop was just what the team needed, a guy in the hole who could hit for power—he had two 20-plus home run seasons for the Brewers.
In his only season with the Twins, Hardy hit six home runs and batted .268 and was dealt to Baltimore for two minor league pitchers.
Since the trade, he has hit 51 home runs…
While the Twins have done a superb job scouting players like Josh Willingham and Ryan Doumit before picking them up in offseason deals, Nishioka clearly was overvalued.
Coming from Nippon Professional Baseball, a league that plays Triple-A-caliber baseball, everyone in the organization knew that the level of play would be a leap for Nishioka.
And although he dominated Japanese baseball, he was unable to translate his game to Major League Baseball.
Many players currently on the roster, including Trevor Plouffe and Liam Hendriks, have had trouble making the transition from the minors to the majors, but neither were as hyped (or paid as much) as Nishioka.
As St. Paul Pioneer Press columnist Tom Powers wrote in a recent column, the team will not release information on who scouted the Japanese infielder.
Some secrets are guarded so closely that the public might never know the truth. For example:
What really fell from the sky and crashed at Roswell, N.M., in 1947? Where is the body of Jimmy Hoffa? What are the herbs and spices in the Colonel's original recipe chicken?
And perhaps most important: Who was the Twins scout who recommended signing Tsuyoshi Nishioka?
This is the final purge from the Bill Smith era.
The Twins begin with a clean slate next year: Glen Perkins is the closer, Ryan Doumit will catch when Mauer plays first and Pedro Florimon or Brian Dozier will play short.
Move No. 1 on the agenda will be filling out a poor rotation, and there’s still some question as to whether Florimon or Dozier is the answer at short.
Finally, Terry Ryan insists that he remains at interim status.
Although there has been (marginal) improvement this year, there is a big task ahead. With a new stadium and four solid players in the lineup (Span, Revere, Mauer and Morneau), this team cannot have a seven-year drought like they did following the two World Series wins under Tom Kelly.
With the release of Nishioka, another question emerges:
Who is going to build the Twins back up again?
All quotes were obtained first-hand.