• Reflecting on the Nishioka Experiment

    In assessing the Twins' payroll situation for next year, a depressing reality became clear. Between the contracts of Tsuyoshi Nishioka and Nick Blackburn, along with the $250,000 buyout that will be owed to Matt Capps, the club was set to be on the hook for about $9 million in what appeared to be totally sunk costs all the results of clearly misguided decisions. That's a pretty significant chunk of money for a team with payroll restraints that needs to be putting all available resources toward improving its considerable weaknesses.

    Fortunately, that burden was lessened today when Nishioka, one of the most spectacular failures in the team's recent history and an almost guaranteed non-factor in next year's plans, asked for his unconditional release, thereby releasing the Twins from their $3.25 million commitment to him next year.

    It's a somewhat surprising development, given that there aren't many past examples of a professional athlete walking away from millions of dollars in guaranteed money. But to understand the decision, it might help to consider some of the cultural differences between Japan and America.

    I'm currently reading a book called Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand. It details the true story of an American Olympian named Louie Zamperini who became a bombardier in World War II, had his plane shot down over the Pacific and ended up in a Japanese POW camp. It's a fantastic book and a highly recommended read.

    At one point, in discussing the Japanese army's torture and degradation tactics with American prisoners, Hillenbrand touches on the psychology behind this sad (but of course hardly unique) practice:

    Few societies treasured dignity, and feared humiliation, as did the Japanese, for whom a loss of honor could merit suicide. This is likely one of the reasons why Japanese soldiers in World War II debased their prisoners with such zeal, seeking to take from them that which was most painful and destructive to lose.
    Now, I certainly don't mean to imply that Nishioka shares the mentality of a 1940s military torturer, but the passage above touches on a distinct aspect of Japanese culture that traces back throughout history. Pride and dignity tend to be valued more highly than most things, including money, which might be difficult to understand in our very different American society where the almighty buck is often priority No. 1.

    In Japan, Nishioka was a preeminent star. He came to the States and was a total failure, unable to produce quality numbers even in the minor leagues. It's not hard to see how this could be extremely difficult for someone with such a mindset to cope with, and given that Nishioka's stock has done nothing but plummet after an abysmal rookie season, his outlook here was grim grim enough that he was willing to give up millions of dollars to get away. (With that said, I suspect he'll be able to land a fairly substantial deal back in Japan.)

    He seems like a perfectly decent guy who's gone through an inordinate number of bad breaks (both literally and figuratively) over the past couple years. He probably did both himself and the Twins a favor by asking out of his contract, and I hope he's able to return to Japan and regain the level of success that brought him notoriety there.

    Meanwhile, the Twins will go back to the drawing board as they attempt to address their ugly middle infield situation. I applaud the creativity that led them to sign Nishioka, but going forward the execution will obviously need to be better.
    This article was originally published in blog: Reflecting on the Nishioka Experiment started by Nick Nelson
    Comments 37 Comments
    1. Brock Beauchamp's Avatar
      Brock Beauchamp -
      The Twins now have an additional $3m to pursue another middle infielder. A surprising, though certainly welcome, development.
    1. Mr. Ed's Avatar
      Mr. Ed -
      Another MI Brock? Don't ya know, Flori/Pesky Esky and Carroll are LOCKS for 2012 with their ability to pick it.

      No need for another guy .
    1. dberthia's Avatar
      dberthia -
      Wow- after this move I have a lot more respect for Nishi. Too bad Blackburn won't man-up and do the same thing.
    1. Sssuperdave's Avatar
      Sssuperdave -
      Wow is all I can say. Very interesting development. Nick mentioned that there aren't many examples of athletes walking away from guaranteed money, and I actually can't think of a single one. Does anyone know of other times athletes have walked away from guaranteed money like this?
    1. Boom Boom's Avatar
      Boom Boom -
      Quote Originally Posted by Sssuperdave View Post
      Wow is all I can say. Very interesting development. Nick mentioned that there aren't many examples of athletes walking away from guaranteed money, and I actually can't think of a single one. Does anyone know of other times athletes have walked away from guaranteed money like this?
      ]

      Gil Meche retired with 2 years and almost 24 million left on his contract with the Royals.
    1. Brock Beauchamp's Avatar
      Brock Beauchamp -
      Yep, Meche is probably the most famous case.
    1. SmokedEyelids's Avatar
      SmokedEyelids -
      Pretty sure Kenji Johjima also returned to Japan after struggling in the big leagues. Him and Meche were the only people I could think of.
    1. nicksaviking's Avatar
      nicksaviking -
      Didn't Brandon Roy walk away from the Blazers with money left on his deal? It seems to me he did, but the NBA is low on my list of favorite leagues.
    1. SpiritofVodkaDave's Avatar
      SpiritofVodkaDave -
      Quote Originally Posted by Boom Boom View Post
      Quote Originally Posted by Sssuperdave View Post
      Wow is all I can say. Very interesting development. Nick mentioned that there aren't many examples of athletes walking away from guaranteed money, and I actually can't think of a single one. Does anyone know of other times athletes have walked away from guaranteed money like this?
      ]

      Gil Meche retired with 2 years and almost 24 million left on his contract with the Royals.
      Wasn't Meche's arm all but completely shot at that point? IIRC there was a very low chance he would ever be able to pitch again, sounds like he was just tired of trying to rehab with real shot at ever getting back.
    1. roger's Avatar
      roger -
      There were several times during that book when I was having problems continuing to read. He really had to be one of the very special people this nation has ever known.

      I wonder if Nishioka's personal life also was part of this decision. I know it was announced that he was getting divorced. I wonder if that isn't final if going home may give him a chance to get his family back together.
    1. Sssuperdave's Avatar
      Sssuperdave -
      I just found this interesting article from 2011 on Meche's retirement. It also mentions Ryne Sandberg and Mark McGuire as guys that walked away from big guaranteed paychecks to retire. Of course, all those situations are completely different than Nishi's.

      http://www.nytimes.com/2011/01/27/sp...eche.html?_r=0
    1. one_eyed_jack's Avatar
      one_eyed_jack -
      Good take, Nick. Here's my parting thoughts on Nishi.

      1. As bad as he was, and he was really, really bad, he was not the only or even one of the biggest problems with this team the last 2 years. As I posted in the other thread, The Twins have played 318 games in 2011 and 2012. Nishioka appeared in only 71 of those games. The Twins record on those games? 31-40. Record with no Nishi? 97-150. Though he became everyone's favorite whipping boy, much of the ripping on Nishi ended up being a distraction for more serious problems. It was like going on about an ugly facial scar while ignoring the fact that a deadly disease was spreading through the internal organs.

      2. I was actually fine with the gamble. After a decade of Tony Batistas, Mike Lambs and other low-cost, low-risk, low-ceiling free agents, the Twins finally decided to go for it. They swung for the fences, and they missed. My concern is that they'll be gun shy about doing it again and go back to hunting through the bargain bin. But I hope I'm wrong. Don't stop trying to hit it out of the park, just be smarter about it and do it better next time.

      3. I'm also a bit concerned about the team turning its back entirely on Asia. I've seen all sorts of "well, that's why you don't sign Japanese players" comments. But it's neither fair nor rational to judge an entire region by a single player. Keep looking in Japan. Not every guy will turn out to be another Nishi. Maybe next time we'll get a Tad Iguchi.

      4. The Nishi thing is over, so hopefully the incessant whining about him will stop. There's nothing to be gained by peeing on the grave of his now dead MLB career.
    1. Montecore's Avatar
      Montecore -
      Unfortunately for the Twins - Nishi's personal integrity does not obviate the black stain his signing indicated about the organization. Whoever had the most authority in heralding him as a speedster/defensive Phenom/ terrific hitter is still running the team in one way or another and whether it was Ryan, or Gardenhire, or one of the Pohlads, it doesn't augur well for the future. If they can turn the team into a laughingstocks once they can do it again and again. If it was one of the Pohlads who the prime mover of the Nishi signing, then the problem will nearly be impossible to fix. But, we know it was Gardenhire who got rid of J.J.Hardy in no small measure I'm sure because J.J. didn't kiss his ass enough, so it's a logical speculation that Hardy liked the idea of having a deferential, monumentally grateful non-modern ballplayers be his shortstop. Every day he's on the job, the organization has the stench of failure.
    1. mikeee's Avatar
      mikeee -
      Guess you have to respect those cultural differences.. That was very honorable of Nishi.
    1. Shane Wahl's Avatar
      Shane Wahl -
      Great article.

      Brock, instead of another MI, maybe that extra 3 million moves the team away from Jeremy Guthrie and towards Ervin Santana?
    1. Jack Torse's Avatar
      Jack Torse -
      Im sure Tnish just became the Pohlads all time favorite Twin.
    1. mlhouse's Avatar
      mlhouse -
      Quote Originally Posted by one_eyed_jack View Post
      Good take, Nick. Here's my parting thoughts on Nishi.

      1. As bad as he was, and he was really, really bad, he was not the only or even one of the biggest problems with this team the last 2 years. As I posted in the other thread, The Twins have played 318 games in 2011 and 2012. Nishioka appeared in only 71 of those games. The Twins record on those games? 31-40. Record with no Nishi? 97-150. Though he became everyone's favorite whipping boy, much of the ripping on Nishi ended up being a distraction for more serious problems. It was like going on about an ugly facial scar while ignoring the fact that a deadly disease was spreading through the internal organs.

      2. I was actually fine with the gamble. After a decade of Tony Batistas, Mike Lambs and other low-cost, low-risk, low-ceiling free agents, the Twins finally decided to go for it. They swung for the fences, and they missed. My concern is that they'll be gun shy about doing it again and go back to hunting through the bargain bin. But I hope I'm wrong. Don't stop trying to hit it out of the park, just be smarter about it and do it better next time.

      3. I'm also a bit concerned about the team turning its back entirely on Asia. I've seen all sorts of "well, that's why you don't sign Japanese players" comments. But it's neither fair nor rational to judge an entire region by a single player. Keep looking in Japan. Not every guy will turn out to be another Nishi. Maybe next time we'll get a Tad Iguchi.

      4. The Nishi thing is over, so hopefully the incessant whining about him will stop. There's nothing to be gained by peeing on the grave of his now dead MLB career.

      The question I have always had about the Twins decision to sign Nishioka is this: is that the way he looked in Japan? With the Twins, he had the worse looking swing I have ever seen. His swing was completely futile with terrible mechanics, particularly from the left side of the plate were it looked like he simple waved the bat in a hopeless attempt to make contact.

      Or did his swing and mechanics completely change when he reached the United States?
    1. Teflon's Avatar
      Teflon -
      Credit Tsuyoshi Nishioka for making Delmon Young's Twins' tenure look better in retrospect.

      If only Nick Blackburn had some Japanese sense of honor, too.
    1. ashburyjohn's Avatar
      ashburyjohn -
      I respect Nishi's walking away from guaranteed money. I wonder though if the Players' Union put any pressure on him to stick to the contract, or will put up a fuss now. In fairness to the players, it should be noted that both sides sign the contract, and precedents like this one can put pressure on some future player to give back something due to nagging injuries or whatnot. I have mixed feelings on the issue, but just wonder about it.
    1. kab21's Avatar
      kab21 -
      I remember watching the Nishi video before he came over and not being very impressed with his lefty swing but I still thought he could have hit .285 with a .330-.350 OBP and solid defense. I thought his lefty swing could still make contact but it was going to produce a lot of grounders and singles. it's disappointing that he wasn't even close to that player.

      Let's not forget that this isn't that bad of a situation for Nishi. he'll return to Japan professionally and hopefully rebound to get a multi year deal there. He loses some money but I have to imagine that he's miserable playing awful in foreign country with very few friends. I'm surprised that he wasn't able to get a little money from the Twins to leave though.
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