Friday, January 6, 2012

The malign influence of Tsuyoshi Nishioka

Tsuyoshi Nishioka may have done more than anybody
to make American teams wary of Japanese players.
Nobody involved in it is a fan of the posting process by which Japanese players generally come to the States. It remains largely because nobody's come up with an alternative that (a) gives the player involved some say before uprooting his career/life to another culture on another continent and (b) protects the Japanese team, which stands to lose a presumably valuable on-field asset.

Quite a few Japanese stars have migrated to the U.S. side of the Pacific over the past couple of decades, lured by the combination of better money and tougher competition. Some -- Ichiro Suzuki being the primest of examples -- have been outright stars in the States. Several have been useful regulars, at least for a few years, even if more was originally expected of them. Some have been outright busts.

Tsuyoshi Nishioka's one season in the United States was not merely a notable bust. It appears to have changed the way American teams deal with posted players in ways other disappointments (such as Kenji Johjima and Kei Igawa) did not.

A couple of examples being played out this offseason:

  • The Milwaukee Brewers won the posting rights to outfielder Norichika Aoki but, with time dwindling to sign him, won't get serious about it until after they've run him through a private workout in Arizona this weekend. The front office, we can assume, doesn't want to commit the money until they've seen something of his skills with their own eyes.
  • The Yankees and infielder Hiroyuki Nakajima failed to come to terms at all. (The Yankees posting rights expire today, but they announced Thursday that talks were ended). Nakajima, 29, is a career .302 hitter in Japan, but the Yanks viewed him as strictly backup material behind Derek Jeter and Robinson Cano, and a rumored sign-and-trade deal never materialized, probably because there was no American team that thought him worth installing as a regular.

Nishioka's failures in 2011 are reflecting back on his peers. Had Nishioka been the competent major league regular I anticipated, the American teams might not be this cautious. Teams aren't looking at Nakajima as the next Taz Iguchi or Akinori Iwamura, both of whom were second base regulars for World Series teams; they're fearing the next Nishioka.

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