In a move that was somehow simultaneously surprising and not, Tsuyoshi Nishioka was sent down to Triple-A Rochester Monday, and to say it’s been a tumultuous year for the man would be an understatement. No, this isn’t to evoke images of sympathy for a man who made $3 million for especially bad baseball last year, and is due a minimum of $6.25 million more.
But let’s consider some facts.
For one, Nishioka’s debut season was rudely interrupted by a takeout slide by Nick Swisher (seen below), which came in the second series of the ‘11 season, and shelved the Japanese import for 68 days a mere week into his rookie campaign.
Ironically enough, with a tip of the cap to colleague Jeff Zimmerman on the research, the only other player to have sustained a fibula fracture over the past 10 seasons is teammate Jason Marquis, who may be on equally shaky ground entering this season. Marquis suffered the break late last season with the Diamondbacks, coming out of the game an inning after the initial contact ostensibly fractured his fibula, before it completely gave way as he was facing Mets catcher Josh Thole — who was also a bit worse for the wear by getting plunked on the pitch that broke the proverbial camel’s back.
Nonetheless, It’s clearly a chicken-and-egg scenario when trying to determine if the Swisher play really derailed any chance Nishioka had of adapting to the American game. Here we are a year later, and all the Twins have to show for the investment — let’s call it $9.25 million + $5.33 million posting fee — is 240 plate appearances of .234 wOBA, -1.4 WAR, and to be matter of fact, just downright ugly baseball. It isn’t that Nishioka hasn’t been able to hit, it’s that at times he’s looked completely unable to make solid contact, to make routine plays and covering his bases, and all-in-all carrying himself like a big league player. This spring has been more of the same, as though Nishioka has been at least somewhat passable with the stick — .240/.269/.320 seems almost Ruthian compared to his .527 OPS last season — he’s still appeared completely flustered in the field.
It sort of seems unlikely that a Swisher takeout slide would cause this many dominos to fall, don’t you think?
To be short, like many big league talent evaluators have recently noted, Nishioka looks lost. He looks like a young man who can’t find his way, in a strange country, playing a game that’s completely foreign to him. To top it off, Nishioka’s wife, Naoku Tokuzawa, filed for divorce in the offseason, more or less confirming the notion that this was among the worst year’s in Nishioka’s life.
But it’s also important to consider what it has cost the Twins. A 99-loss season aside, the Twins dealt J.J. Hardy and signed Nishioka as the ‘answer’ at shortstop. Predictably, as a number of recent Twins moves have panned out, this fell flat, as Hardy regained his sapped wrist strength to the tune of a .343 wOBA with 30 long balls and his usual brand of stellar defense. In fact, take a peek at the Hardy-Nishioka discrepancy:
To take it a step further, here’s what Twins shortstops did as a unit last season: .234/.295/.329 triple-slash, -23.2 UZR, -1.1 WAR, .095 ISO, and a .278 wOBA. And that’s just players who played shortstop, including the likes of Trevor Plouffe, who also saw time in the outfield. A furtive glance at the BRef splits — presumably just of those who were starting at shortstop each particular day — is no prettier: .238/.292/.320. Guess that sort of leaves little doubt why GM Terry Ryan addressed shortstop right out of the gate when free agency opened last autumn.
I mean, there’s “Yeah, we goofed up,” and “What are you paying these guys for?” And obviously heads had to roll, and the head of said heads, Bill Smith, was re-purposed for less stressful duties, but it can’t be emphasized enough just how badly this was flubbed. As Eno Sarris noted, Smith was the first GM since 1950 to be canned in November. Ouch.
And the worst part? The Twins were forced to make a move this season to fill that gaping hole at short, inking diminutive but dependable Jamey Carroll to a two-year deal worth $6.5 million to ostensibly keep the spot warm for Brian Dozier and/or Levi Michael. Add that $6.5 million to the $14.58 of sunk cost — the definition of sunk cost, really — on Nishioka, and that gets us to $21.08 million.
The cost of Hardy’s freshly minted extension in baseball purgatory? $22.25 million over three years. It’s not an exact science, but I do know this: this season, the Twins have $5.75 million committed to the two players tasked with replacing Hardy — deemed too expensive, among other things, for the Twins to keep — while the O’s will pay him exactly $7 million.
Ain’t that a kick in the pants?