Last month's Japanese shortstop, Hiroyuki Nakajima, didn't end up coming to America after all, and ace Hisashi Iwakuma, stalled in talks with the Oakland Athletics, might join him in staying put. But batting champion Tsuyoshi Nishioka has ensured that the Transpacific rumor pipeline won't dry up prior to the Winter Meetings—bidding for the right to negotiate with the Chiba Lotte Marines star closes at four o'clock this afternoon.â†µ
Nishioka, 26, hit .346/.423/.492 last season, which makes him the rare Japanese infield import who was already a slap-hitter before joining the Major Leagues. Infielders who've put up similarly shaped seasons in the States—Akinori Iwamura, Tadahito Iguchi, Kazuo Matsui—all hit for power in a way that's kind of startling to see after looking at them and watching them play the American game. Iwamura—who's returning to Japan for the 2011 season—once hit 44 home runs and struck out 175 times in a season with the Yakult Swallows, which is impossible to fathom.â†µ
What's more worrisome about Nishioka is that 2010 was completely unprecedented in his career-to-date. Historically he's hung closer to a .300 average, and he's also struggled with injuries almost constantly since reaching the majors at 21.â†µ
Some team might grossly overpay for Nishioka's 2010 season, and if they do I wish them well and look forward to seeing, from afar, how a real slap-hitter adjusts to American baseball. But if the other teams in need of infield help are as cautious about him as I am, I hope the Cardinals at least put in a bid; at 26 he's less of a finished product than the average Japanese prospect.â†µ
And given Nishioka's noodly arm, the Cardinals might be forced to make the right decision on accident, and bench Skip Schumaker instead of Brendan Ryan...