MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — The Minnesota Twins released Tsuyoshi Nishioka on Friday, ending their experiment with the Japanese middle infielder after two rough seasons.
The move, which the Twins said came at Nishioka’s request and was supported by the club, wasn’t a surprise. But the way he went out was unique.
Accepting blame for his failure to produce at the plate or play capable defense at shortstop and second base, Nishioka waived his right to his $3 million salary for the 2013 season and a $250,000 buyout.
So they don’t owe him any more money, and Nishioka is now a free agent. With guaranteed contracts, major league teams rarely are able to get off the payroll hook like this for players no longer in their plans. But Nishioka, in a statement released by the Twins, was nothing but graceful.
“I would like to thank the Twins organization for helping me fulfill my dream of playing in Major League Baseball,” Nishioka said. “I take full responsibility for my performance which was below my own expectations. At this time, I have made the decision that it is time to part ways. I have no regrets and know that only through struggle can a person grow stronger. I appreciate all the support the team and the fans in Minnesota and Rochester have shown me.”
General manager Terry Ryan downplayed Nishioka’s generosity; the 28-year-old is likely to find an interested team again in Japan.
“It was probably the best thing to happen for both parties,” Ryan said, adding: “I’m sure he’ll do well in Japan, and it certainly frees up some payroll for us.”
Nishioka spent most of 2012 with the Triple-A Rochester Red Wings, batting .258 with two home runs and 34 RBIs in 392 at-bats. He played in only three games for the Twins this summer, making two errors plus several other mistakes in the field and going 0 for 12 with one sacrifice fly.
“I think he wants to get into a situation where he gets an opportunity to kind of renew it and start over,” manager Ron Gardenhire said. “He understands what happened up here. It just didn’t work out for him. … Just kind of get free of this and go from there. That’s the right thing for him. Good for him.”
Signed to a three-year, $9.25 million contract before the 2011 season after the Twins bid more than $5.3 million to his Japanese team to gain negotiating rights, Nishioka broke his lower left leg just five games in to his rookie year when he stayed too close to the base while trying to turn a double play and New York Yankees slugger Nick Swisher slid into him.
Nishioka returned from the injury that June but never found a rhythm, finishing with a .226 average and just five extra-base hits in 221 at-bats. He made 12 errors in 68 games in 2011.
This was a far cry from Nishioka’s performance in Japan, where he was the Nippon Professional Baseball batting champion in 2010, hitting .346 for the Chiba Lotte Marines and winning the equivalent of a Gold Glove award for his defense.
Ryan said, though, that the Twins aren’t any less likely to scout in Japan after this mistake.
“We tried. He tried. … Just didn’t work,” Ryan said.
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