Tsuyoshi Nishioka: If He's the Next Big Thing, What Teams May Be Interested?

James Stewart-MeudtCorrespondent IINovember 19, 2010

BEIJING - AUGUST 20:  Tsuyoshi Nishioka of Japan throws onto first for the putout against the United States in the baseball event at the Wukesong Baseball Field during Day 12 of the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games on August 20, 2008 in Beijing, China.  (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)
Nick Laham/Getty Images

Japanese shortstop Tsuyoshi Nishioka is a name we might have to become familiar with.

He has just been cleared to move to Major League Baseball via the posting system, which allows big league teams to bid for the rights to negotiate with Japanese players who have yet to become free agents.

Teams now have four business days to bid for exclusive rights to sign the 26-year-old switch hitter.

So who is this guy?

Well, Nishioka is right-handed but actually hit lefty before learning to hit switch. He has played for the Chiba Lotte Marines (formerly coached by Bobby Valentine) in Japan's Pacific Coast League since 2003.

Overall, he has a reputation as an above average defensive player (he's won three Gold Gloves), and his skills at the plate have steadily improved. He does have some power, averaging just over 12 homers and 49 RBI over his last three seasons.

This season was the best of his career. He hit .346 while collecting 206 hits and stealing 22 bases. The last player to record over 200 hits in a season? That's right—Ichiro in 1994.

So is this guy the next Ichiro? Slow down.

Nishioka has a reputation as an injury-prone player, having battled neck, wrist, knee and hamstring injuries at various times in his career. He doesn't have great speed but has stolen 20 or more bases over the last three seasons. He compensates for his lack of speed by getting good reads on pitchers and is excellent at reading a pitcher's motions. His career 71.6 percent stolen base percentage is a bit alarming though.

Nishioka is a prototypical leadoff hitter—a high average, contact hitter who puts the ball in play a lot and can score a lot of runs in the right offense.

So what teams might be in line for this latest import's services?

Well, so far a few teams have reportedly expressed interest, including the Orioles, Padres, Mariners and Twins. The Red Sox were also supposed to have been interested, but they have chosen not to put in a bid, looking at their own shortstop prospects instead.

A high price tag just for the rights to negotiate with Nishioka may deter some teams, but I'd expect the Orioles to make the biggest push. They aren't afraid of making big offers, though rarely landing that big player, and might look to make a big splash in a thin free agent market.

In 2000, when the Mariners won the right to negotiate with Ichiro, it cost them $13 million, and they then signed him to a three-year, $14 million contract. It could cost the winning team a similar dollar amount to negotiate with Nishioka.