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Updated: December 6th, 2010 6:04pm
Nishioka reportedly seeks 3-year deal; Bill Smith discusses, sort of

Nishioka reportedly seeks 3-year deal; Bill Smith discusses, sort of

by Phil Mackey
1500ESPN.com
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LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- According to multiple reports, Minnesota Twins general manager Bill Smith met here on Monday with Rick Thurman, the agent for infielder Tsuyoshi Nishioka, to begin the process of hashing out a contract.

Nishioka, per SI.com's Jon Heyman, seeks a three-year contract.

Update: According to Ed Price of AOLFanhouse.com, the Twins offered a three-year deal in the $9 million to 10 million range.

Smith was asked about those negotiations, but he chose, not surprisingly, to press his cards close to his vest.

"I don't want to get too deep into him because we haven't signed him yet," Smith said. "But we have seen him for several years. He played in the WBC, not this past year but the one before. We have seen him in a number of different competitions and we have good reports on him."

Are the two sides close to a deal?

"We'll let you know."

Are the Twins optimistic about a deal being completed soon?

"We like the player. And we're thrilled that we were the high bidder. We'll have to see how the reset of it plays out."

When is the next meeting with Thurman?

"We'll let you know. But not when we're going to meet with him. The less said the better."

Fair enough.

As for the baseball side of things, Smith said a deal with Nishioka doesn't necessarily signal the end of shortstop J.J. Hardy's time in Minnesota, even though multiple teams are reportedly interested in him.

"We can be very flexible," Smith said. "We can play Hardy, Nishioka and Casilla. If we can get him signed, we can play all three of them, we can play two of them. Nishioka can play short or second, Casilla can play short or second."

"J.J.'s a good shortstop," Smith added. "I think the one injury that was most unfortunate was the wrist injury, because it was a contact injury. Sliding into third base, banged his wrest, and collision injuries are hard to avoid. He did everything -- great make-up, he fit in well with our club, and he still fits in well with our club."

The Twins have until 11:00 p.m. on December 26 to reach an agreement with Nishioka.

Other Nishioka notes

• When asked if Nishioka compares to any current or former major-league players, Smith's answer might surprise people.

"I hate doing it, because it always gets difficult. One guy that he has been compared to a little bit is a Greg Gagne-type. He can really run. He won't steal 60 bases. He isn't going to steal, but he can really run. He'll go first to third, he'll score from second, he'll do some of those things.

"He's got a lot of differences (to Gagne), but he's a good fielder, he can run... That's one of the names that comes up when you try to compare him to somebody."

Nishioka's knock defensively is his weak throwing arm from shortstop. Offensively, Nishioka hit .293/.364/.426 during his Japanese career. Gagne hit .254/.302/.382 in 15 major-league seasons.

The statistical similarities are minimal, but from a scouting standpoint, maybe Nishioka does compare to Gagne. We'll find out.

• How can the Twins be confident Nishioka's production won't fall off the map like some of his Japanese predecessors?

"We have people that evaluate the players that project what we think he can do, or what a player's going to do over here. We've liked the two guys that posted this year -- Iwakuma the pitcher and Nishioka. But our guys have a pretty good track record. They've had some that have come over and have been very good that we've liked, and there have been some that have come over that haven't done very well that we haven't liked.

"I'm not sure there's any one formula. I'm not sure there's one specific thing you can tie it to other than you look at the tools and project how they're going to play at the major-league level."

• The decision as to whether Nishioka plays second base or shortstop lies strictly with manager Ron Gardenhire.

• Smith confirmed that Nishioka speaks almost zero English. Same for his wife.

Phil Mackey is a columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He co-hosts "Mackey & Judd" from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Phil | @PhilMackey | Mackey & Judd
In this story: Ron Gardenhire, J.J. Hardy
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