In 2010, the Minnesota Twins received decent production from their middle infield. It wasn't flashy. But it was decent. J.J. Hardy and Orlando Hudson both posted 96 OPS+'s which was more than adequate considering their defensive reputations.
But the Twins wanted more.
They traded Hardy to the Orioles, and they let Hudson leave as a free agent. They had a plan, you see. They wanted speed up the middle. They wanted slap-and-run guys. No, seriously, that's what Ron Gardenhire said. He was quoted in this unintentionally tragic article about the arrival of Tsuyoshi Nishioka.
I would love to see Alexi Casilla be the other side of (the double-play tandem). I'll have a lot of speed up in the middle, a lot of slap and run guys.
You're reading this because Nishioka didn't slap or run nearly as well as everyone expected. Friday, he asked for his release, voluntarily giving up the remaining $3 million on his contract. It was the end of an era. Eras can be bad, too.
A reminder of what the Twins thought they were getting:
And in the form of moving pictures:
It was easy to stare at that stat line and drool. What if Nishioka could do, say, 80 percent of that? Considering his Gold Glove defense -- at both second and short! -- he'd be a steal.
There were warning signs. It was the only Nishioka's only season in Japan that was remotely close to that level of production. But you could explain that away by noting he was just 25 -- it was a new level of production instead of a fluke season. And ZiPS didn't hate him. He was supposed to be average, at least, with the potential of being so, so much more. Let's go to a professional talent evaluator!
"He is a good player, he is a talented kid," said ESPN analyst Bobby Valentine, who managed Nishioka in Japan. "If he had been a college kid four or five years ago, he would have been a first-round pick. He runs faster than a lot of people. He can get a hit. He can steal a base. He can bunt. He is still developing physically and mentally. And this year, he stayed healthy all year. He has style issues, positive and negative: he likes to be noticed. How he develops will depend on what team signs him."
And if there's one thing Bobby Valentine is wary of, it's people who like to be noticed.
Here's what Nishioka did in his now-defunct major-league career:
He was the first player in 20 years to slug less than .240 in more than 250 plate appearances. The Twins won the rights to Nishioka with a bid of $5 million -- pretty low for what was supposed to be a starting middle infielder. That was probably a hint that at least a few of the other teams saw something they didn't like, so it's not like everyone missed on Nishioka. But a lot of fans did. I know that if the Giants had signed him before 2011, I would have been thrilled.
Toolsy players who dominated the league in their home country can thrill. But they can also disappoint. Holy heck, how they can disappoint. Call it the Nishioka-Cespedes spectrum, and refer to it often in the off-season.