Nishioka vows to repay Minnesota with results


MAJOR MOVE — Japanese infielder Tsuyoshi Nishioka poses in his new Minnesota Twins uniform on Dec. 18, in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The former Chiba Lotte Marines star vowed to repay Minnesota with results after signing with the Twins on $9 million contract with a club option for 2014. Kyodo News photo

MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. (Kyodo) — Japanese infielder Tsuyoshi Nishioka on Dec. 18 vowed to put up numbers to repay Minnesota after signing with the Twins on a $9 million contract with a club option for 2014.

“The process of developing as a player at a team that can be in title contention is a big plus for me,” Nishioka told a press conference a day after the deal was announced.

“In order to pay back (the Twins) I have to put up numbers. The major leagues are uncharted territory for me and scary. I’ll try hard to achieve my main objective of helping the team win games.”

Nishioka, at 26 the youngest Japanese position player to move to the major leagues, added in English, “I’m excited to be part of the Twins family. Thank you.”

The Twins and Nishioka, who arrived in Minneapolis from Japan on Dec. 16, finalized the deal Dec. 17 after he passed his physical. He will fill one of the middle infield roles while adding speed to the lineup.

The Chiba Lotte Marines, Nishioka’s former team, will receive the posting fee valued at $5.3 million

The Twins won the exclusive right late last month to negotiate a contract with Nishioka as the highest bidder under the posting system. The two sides had until Dec. 26 to finalize the deal during a 30-day negotiating period.

Nishioka figured into the Twins’ offseason plans to add offensive speed. The reigning division champions of the American League Central stole 68 bases this past season, tied with the Boston Red Sox for the second lowest in the American League.

His chances of starting improved last week when the Twins traded shortstop J.J. Hardy to the Baltimore Orioles. The club also parted ways with second baseman Orlando Hudson, leaving Nishioka and infielder Alexi Casilla to take over the middle infield.

Nishioka played shortstop and second base in Japan, but Twins manager Ron Gardenhire has not yet decided which position the three-time Golden Glove winner will play.

Nishioka’s move to the major leagues comes after he led the Lotte Marines to their first Japan Series title in five years.

The team captain led the Pacific League with a .346 batting average and 206 hits, becoming the first player in the league to achieve a 200-hit season since Ichiro Suzuki collected 210 hits in 1994 for the Orix BlueWave.

Nishioka is a career .293 hitter with 55 homers, 300 RBIs and 175 stolen bases in eight seasons, all with Lotte.

The All-Star infielder is the second Japanese player to enter the posting system for the major leagues this year. The Oakland Athletics won the negotiating right with Rakuten Eagles pitcher Hisashi Iwakuma in November. The two sides failed to reach an agreement and Iwamuka became the first player posted not to secure a contract.

The Twins have won six AL central titles in the past nine years. The club finished the season with a 94-68 record before they were swept by the New York Yankees in the first round of the divisional playoffs.

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