The Minnesota Twins made what may have been an overdue move on Friday by giving Japanese infielder Tsuyoshi Nishioka his unconditional release. Nishioka apparently asked for his release, and it can be assumed he will now return to Japan and resume his career there.
The Twins signed Nishioka to a three-year, $9 million deal prior to the 2011 season, and his rookie season was quickly derailed by a broken left leg in April and even after his return he looked uncomfortable defensively. To say nothing of his offense, as he hit just .226 with a .278 on-base percentage with 19 RBI and two stolen bases over 240 plate appearances.
Nishioka started the 2012 season at Triple-A Rochester and was not particularly impressive there, hitting .258 with two home runs, 34 RBI and seven stolen bases over 431 plate appearances. But reports surfaced he had improved some defensively, and he earned a brief call-up and played three games against the Cleveland Indians in early August. To say his brief time back in the big leagues was a disappointment is an understatement, as he went hitless in 14 plate appearances and was still a virtual disaster defensively. The Twins removed Nishioka from their 40-man roster later in August, which was clearly a pre-cursor to Friday’s move.
Overall, Nishioka hit .215 with a .267 on-base percentage with 20 RBI and 14 runs scored in 233 at-bats (254 plate appearances) for the Twins over two seasons. He did hit .300 or better in three of his last four seasons in Japan, including winning a batting title with a .346 average for the Chiba Lotte Marines of the Japanese Pacific League in 2010. So it’s safe to say he has some talent, and returning to his home country should benefit him.
The Twins will be off the hook for Nishioka’s $3 million salary for 2013, though they do have to pay him a $250,000 buyout. Of course the team also paid over $5 million just for the right to negotiate with Nishioka, which ups the cost of a move that was already costly enough for a traditionally cost conscious franchise. Still, being armed with a little extra money will come in handy as general manager Terry Ryan and company look to make some roster changes this winter.