Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Four Teams That Want JJ Hardy

(or so I would guess)

Twins Geek: Time for some Hot Stove Chatter. Yesterday, Jon Paul Morosi of …

Geek Chorus: Well, what is he “of” exactly? I always hear “of FOX Sports”, but his post is on a blog at Is owned by Fox Sports? On their home page, they say “with on MSN.” What the hell does that mean? Are we just adding random prepositions to businesses now?

And on’s front page they have a big button that says “SPORTS BLOGGERS! JOIN OUT NETWORK!” So could you be Twins Geek of Or better yet, Twins Geek of TwinsCentric via through with on MSN? Just by clicking THAT EXCITING BUTTON?

Wow. You are this close to being titled by a half dozen media empires. I’m so excited for you.

Thanks. Anyhoo, yesterday, Jon Paul Morosi of reported that the Pittsuburgh Pirates “have interest in Tampa Bay’s Jason Bartlett and Minnesota’s JJ Hardy.” He also said both are available via trade.

Geek Chorus: And odds are they are at super low, LOW discount prices today, since the Twins need to decide whether to non-tender Hardy today (provided you’re reading this on Thursday). You can talk all you want about the new stadium, the Twins are still a business, and a fairly conservatively run business at that. Pohlad businesses like to stay within their budgets. This should not be a shocking revelation. We have rougly 463 years of data to support this.

But the last thing the Twins want is to get into a limbo contest (“how low can you go?”) against the Rays when dealing with the Pirates.

Geek Chorus: Agreed. My gawd, they’re the Pirates. Have some pride.

Right. So let’s take a quick look at who some possible trading partners might be for Mr. Hardy’s services.

#4. San Diego Padres – The only problem with the Padres is they’re cheap. They also have a 24-year-old named Everth Cabrera who they sure would like to not suck, but unfortunately last year, he did. They were desperate enough at the trade deadline to trade for Miguel Tejada and his walker and set them up at shortstop. And the Padres supposedly talked to Tejada this offseason, too, so they must like older expensive guys.

Geek Chorus: That’s crazy. Can you imagine anyone thinking Tejada could still play shortstop? Ludicrous.

#3 Pittsburgh Pirates – I’m a little surprised that the Pirates would consider Hardy’s contract, so I don’t expect much of a return if a trade goes down. After all, last year they traded for Akinori Iwamura’s $4.5M option, and all the Pirates gave up was middle reliever Jesse Chavez, who has been traded twice since and posted a 5.89 ERA last year. So forget about getting Joel Hanrahan or even Evan Meek. You might get Chris Resop or ex-Tigers castoff Wil Ledezma.

Geek Chorus: I’ll say this about Pirates GM Neal Huntington - he sure seems to know how to acquire and test a bunch of young arms on the cheap. And maybe turn them into some real players.

#2 Baltimore Orioles – The Orioles had Cesar Izturis at short, who I think started the year with a ton of praise. You can guess how that went. Actually you probably can’t – it was that bad. Beyond normal words kinda bad.

Geek Chorus: Some might say his batting was “Buterrible.”


Usually, one wouldn’t expect the Orioles, a team clearly trying to build through youth, to pick up a veteran player on a one-year deal. But the Orioles are showing they have some money to spend this offseason, including making a “significant offer” to Paul Konerko. If they’re in on Konerko, why wouldn’t they be in on Hardy?

Geek Chorus: I’m trying to think of a better sound then the wailing and gnashing of teeth from White Sox fans if Konerko signed with the Orioles. Maybe the sound bites of Kenny Williams subtly (but publicly) questioning Konerko’s desire? Or Ozzie Guillen tweeting in Spanish about how much Williams is paying Mark Teahan? Or AJ Pierzynski cackling as he takes the money they could’ve spent on a real player? My gawd, it’s a symphony of angst. Please, lord, make this happen. I don’t ask for much.

#1 Houston Astros – This organization if for sale, seems to have no idea of the value of a dollar and their shortstop last year was something named “Manzella.”

Geek Chrous: Which is EXACTLY the name I would create to mock a slightly-built, terrible hitting middle infielder. Man-ZELLA!

Well, he’s 6’ 2”, but he did have the distinct honor of having a lower OPS than Drew Butera last year.

The Astros also seem to evaluate player value nearly randomly. I’m not going to lie – this idea makes me giddy. This would have the potential to be a Liriano/Nathan/Bonser for AJ kind of heist. Please lord, make this happen. I don’t ask for much.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

What To Expect From Tsuyoshi Nichioka?

Nick was kind enough to put in a little overtime this weekend, covering that the Twins have secured exclusive negotiating rights with Japanese middle infielder Tsuyoshi Nishioka with a $5.5M bid. It's important to know that this doesn't mean that Nishioka is going to be a Twins next year. The Twins still need to sign Nishioka, and almost half of the Japanese players who are posted end up not signing with the team that signed them. So far, that includes the most recent posting, pitcher Hisashi Iwakuma, who seems to be at an impasse with the Oakland A's.

So what will it take to sign Nishioka? So far, there haven't been any public salary demands, but history might give us some hint. I can only find one Japanese player who was won with a posting fee around $5M and who signed with a major league team. He also happens to have been a middle infielder that jumped to the majors when he was fairly young. And, maybe not coincidentally, the Twins nearly acquired him last year.

That player is Akinori Iwamura, who lasted four years in the majors, but is probably at the end of his MLB career. From 2007 through 2009, Iwamura played primarily third base and second base for the Tampa Bay Rays before he was traded to the Pirates last year. The Twins thought they had acquired him, going so far as to open up a 40-man roster spot and notify players that were included in the trade. But the Rays ended up choosing the Pirates, the Twins ended up trading for JJ Hardy, and Iwamura and his injured knee had a terrible season in Pittsburgh and Oakland.

However, for the first three years of that contract, Iwamura was a solid contributor, if unspectacular. He hit .281, but got on base at a .354 clip, above the league average. Defensive metrics showed him being average at second base, and a little above average at third base. He was left-handed, he cut down on his strikeouts compared to Japan, and provided a little speed, averaging about 10 stolen bases over those three years. In short, he was a enviable #2 hitter.

With the imminent departure of Orlando Hudson, that's something the Twins could really use, so I wondered how Nishioka compared to Iwamura. And almost across the board, it's good news.

First, Nishioka is younger. Iwamura was 28 when he played in his first year in the majors, while Nishioka will only be 26. That also means the Twins have the rare opportunity to add a Japanese player who is entering the prime years of his career.

Nishioka also looks like he's a better contact hitter than Iwamura was. Iwamura was always good at working a walk, but he also struck out 300 times in his last two years in the Japan Pacific League (JPL). Nishioka hasn't been quite as proficient at drawing walks, but he's also struck out less than half as much. That sounds like a pretty good trait for a #2 hitter.

Nishioka is also quite a bit more aggressive on the bases. Iwamura consistently swiped about 10 SB per year, both in the JPL and with the Rays. Nishioka has averaged 25 stolen bases over the last five years. Again, that looks like a good guy to have at the top of the order.

(Right about now, some sabremetric 101 graduate is planning on pointing out to me that Nishioka's 67% stolen base percentage last year isn't really a benefit to a team. Maybe it isn't on a per run basis over the regular season. But in the playoffs, I want that weapon in my holster versus specific teams. And I'm even more excited now that Victor Martinez just joined the division.)

At least anecdotally, Nishioka seems to be better defensively. Nishioka has won two gold gloves in the JPL, one of which was at shortstop. As far as I can tell, Iwamura never had that kind of reputation.

Finally, Nishioka's skill set seems to translate better to the major leagues. Iwamura was revered in the JPL in part because he was a home run hitter (which also explains his high strikeout rate). In the majors, he hit all of 14 big flys over those three years. Nishioka's skill set is based more on speed and small ball, similar to Ichiro.

But back to the original reason I looked up Iwamura - how much did he sign for? He signed a 3-year deal for $7.7M, which ended up costing the team about $4M per year if you include the posting fee. That sounds reasonable, especially because it include a fourth year team option.

Opinions differ on what would happen if the Twins sign Nishioka. Many believe his defensive skills play better at second base, and so the Twins might retain Hardy. And that's a fine idea, if the team has money for both.

I don't think they do, so I predict it will mean Hardy ends up being traded. The Nishioka signing would allow them to replace Hardy with more speed, replace Hudson at #2 in the order AND save them some money. Then either Nishioka or Alexi Casilla would end up playing shortstop.

Which is one of two concerns I have about this development. Will manager Ron Gardenhire be able to entrust shortstop to either Casilla or Nishioka? In the past, Gardenhire has seemingly placed as much importance on attitude as ability at that position. I can't believe he would ever trust Casilla there, and I wonder how much he could trust a Japanese player, especially if he doesn’t have a great command of english. (I haven't been able to find out well Nishioka speaks english.) Would Gardy be able to help himself, especially if Nick Punto or Matt Tolbert are languishing on the bench?

The other big concern about Nishioka is his health. He's battled injuries his entire JPL career, including a serious knee injury. In fact, that's why his JPL manager Bobby Valentine moved him to shortstop: to protect his lower body.

But if the Twins do end up investing about $4M per year for three years, that's an acceptable risk to take. (For that matter, at just 26 years old, I wouldn't be shocked to agree to a four-year or even a five-year deal.) Nishioka looks like a great fit for the Twins in both the short and long-term. And like last year's trade for Hardy, it gives them quite a bit of flexibility over the rest of the offseason.