What he adds to the lineup remains to be seen.
We also know that 2010 was far, far better his previous seasons. Maybe it was luck, maybe it was a lack of nagging injuries, maybe it was legitimate improvement — most likely it was a combination of factors.
Bill Smith, the Twins general manager, took pains on Saturday to note that the Marines didn't have to post Nishioka and didn't have to accept the Twins bid. He thanked Chiba Lotte for doing so. It's quite possible that Chiba Lotte figured it was selling high on Nishioka.
We ought not expect an infielding Ichiro to step into the Twins lineup next spring. The Twins clearly do not; it took, in 2000, a bid of more than $13 million for the Mariners to win the rights to Ichiro. The winning bid for Nishioka was a comparatively paltry $5.3 million. The contract the 26-year-old signed last week — $9.25 million over three years with a club option for a fourth season — is considerably lower than that signed by Kaz Matsui when he came stateside.
Matsui is perhaps an informing comp for Nishioka. As Aaron Gleeman has pointed out repeatedly, Nishioka's career season is a bit less that what Matsui averaged in Japan. And Matsui is generally regarded as having been a bust in MLB. (Matsui came over for his age 28 season; Nishioka turns 27 in July.)
Matsui — who has signed with a Japanese team for 2011 — hit .267/.321/.380 in seven U.S. seasons. That is essentially what Orlando Hudson hit for the Twins in 2010 (.268/.338/.372).
Hudson, who is about six years older than Nishioka, signed with San Diego on Friday — two years at more than $5 million. Even if you include the posting fee, Nishioka figures to be cheaper than Hudson per year, and with the Twins for a longer period.
Replacing Hudson with Nishioka makes sense on the margins. It doesn't figure to be a major upgrade. Don't expect a star.
At least three teams in the past decade advanced to the World Series with a Japanese regular at second base: the 2005 Chicago White Sox, with Tadahito Iguchi; the 2007 Colorado Rockies, with Matsui; and the 2008 Tampa Bay Rays, with Akinori Iwamura. Each was a short-timer.
That doesn't mean a lot, but at least winning with a Japanese infielder isn't unprecedented.