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Thursday (Nishioka and Valencia) edition: Wha' Happened?

Posted by: Michael Rand under Target Field, Twins fans Updated: August 9, 2012 - 9:21 AM

We won't use this space to pile on Tsuyoshi Nishioka. His play in three games back with the Twins has generally spoken for itself, and whatever had been left unsaid was nicely laid out today by Joe C and by Reusse. But we do have a few points:

*The promotion of Nishioka was essentially a swap for Danny Valencia. They don't play the same positions since Valencia is a third baseman and Nishioka is a middle infielder, but the swap works because Jamey Carroll and Alexi Casilla can play (and have played) third base. Valencia and Nishioka are essentially the same age -- Nishi just turned 28 and Valencia will turn next month. Valencia has proven some value at the major league level -- he was third in the Rookie of the Year voting in 2010 after hitting .311 in a partial season, and he did lead the Twins in RBIs last year (albeit with 72, mostly by staying healthy while nobody else could). Nishioka has not proven anything at this level. So the decision was a function of two things:

*The first thing is money. Valencia was a 19th-round pick. He was making $515,000 this year. In the grand scheme of things, Minnesota didn't have a ton invested in him. Nishioka, on the other hand, was brought here for $14 million, including a posting fee. The Twins are obviously not willing to cut their losses on this one (even though they have been prepared to eat contracts before, such as when the DFA'd Jason Marquis earlier this season). The total investment just seems too much for the Twins to bear giving up on Nishi, at least for now. You can argue this is not a smart way to do business -- that Nishi is sunk cost, and they should just move on -- but we don't think you can argue that money is a factor in this decision.

*The second thing must be Valencia. The Twins basically gave him away for a 21-year-old prospect playing in low rookie ball. They traded him while Trevor Plouffe was still hurt. And they traded him after he had at least performed decently after his recall (the Twins were 5-2 in his seven starts, and he had six RBI). But Valencia has clearly rubbed the team the wrong way at various points. Whether there was a final straw or just an accumulation of things, the Twins had seen enough. But they made a decision, as we said, that didn't help their on-field product. Because there is no way you can argue that Nishioka is a better MLB player than Valencia based on what each has accomplished. Valencia, by the way, is buried on the Red Sox AAA depth chart.

*Back to the money. Do we need to adjust our expectations for Nishioka and -- like we must do with Joe Mauer -- try to take the money he is paid out of the equation? That is to say, if we stop looking at him as a $14 million investment (a decision the Twins made) and think of him as an older prospect trying to figure things out, can we find more patience? We know. We know. This is not easy. Maybe it isn't even the right thing to do because even if a 22-year-old rookie making the minimum was playing like Nishioka did last year and so far this year, Twins fans would be demanding that player get off the field. We are just trying to imagine a scenario whereby Nishioka can turn this around if each play isn't treated like the end of the world.

Admittedly, it's hard to see. And we wouldn't begrudge any Twins fan for being quite upset if Nishi is in the lineup tomorrow night at Target Field.

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