Switch-hitting infielder Tsuyoshi Nishioka met on Monday for the first time with officials from the Chiba Lotte Marines. Nishioka played his first eight pro seasons with Lotte before going to the majors in 2011.
After two lackluster seasons in the Minnesota Twins organization, the 28-year-old Nishioka walked away from the third year of his contract in order to return to Japan. He was due to receive $3.25 million from the Twins in 2013.
The Marines posted Nishioka after a 2010 campaign in which he became the first shortstop to lead his league in batting average and win a Golden Glove in the same season. That year, Lotte became the first team to finish third in its league and reach the Japan Series, which it won.
“I’m uncertain what to do because this is the team that raised me,” Nishioka said of Lotte. “I’ve heard from some teams, and none of them has an advantage.”
He has a career .293 batting average with 175 stolen bases and 518 runs scored in Japan. Nishioka broke his leg early in his debut season with the Twins and played sparingly after that. He finished with a .215 average in 233 at-bats over 71 career games with the American League club.
“I think we presented our case as well as we could,” said Nobuhira Hayashi, the Marines’ director of baseball operations. “There is a good chance (of signing him).”
The Marines chief of player personnel, Naoki Matsumoto, was more guarded.
“One doesn’t know what the response will be,” said Matsumoto, who, in his days as the club’s Kansai regional scout, signed Nishioka out of high school. “The decision is up to him, but it would be great if he chose us.”
Nakajima eyes majors
Seibu Lions shortstop Hiroyuki Nakajima told his team on Monday he would file for unrestricted free agency.
It was the first day Japanese players were eligible to file.
Nakajima, who this season reached the nine years of service necessary to become an unrestricted free agent, told the team he intends to move to the majors. Hanshin Tigers relief ace Kyuji Fujikawa is widely expected to exercise his right to move overseas, as is Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters second baseman Kensuke Tanaka.
A total of 85 players currently have the right to walk away from their current clubs and seek employment elsewhere, with 18 eligible only for domestic free agency.
A pair from the Orix Buffaloes has already completed the filing procedure, with right-hander Hayato Terahara apparently headed back to his first club, the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks, and catcher Takeshi Hidaka headed to Hanshin.
Players have seven business days after the conclusion of the Japan Series to inform their current clubs and file for free agency. That period ends this year on Nov. 13, and the following day the commissioner’s office will publish a list of free agents with negotiations officially to begin on Nov. 15.
Giants deal Tono to Buffs
Yomiuri Giants right-hander Shun Tono and infielder Kazunao Yamamoto will be dealt to the Orix Buffaloes in a trade for right-hander Ryota Katsuki and lefty Toru Anan, both teams announced on Monday.
A day earlier, a source had said Orix would take Tono for the two pitchers, but the deal was expanded to include 26-year-old Yamamoto, who never played on Yomiuri’s top team.
The Buffaloes expect the 26-year-old Tono to be one of the pillars of their starting rotation after the former 13-game winner was left out of the Giants’ plans for next season.
“I think I’ll have more opportunities than I had with the Giants,” said Tono, who was Yomiuri’s Opening Day starting pitcher in 2011. “I want to prove myself. I am sad to be leaving the team, but more than anything I feel that I want to get back at them next season.”
Tono went 13-8 with a 3.27 ERA in 27 games for the Giants in 2010, but was limited this year to just one start where he pitched two-run ball over five innings against the Seibu Lions on June 9. He has a 31-27 record with two saves over six years in pro baseball.
Katsuki, 30, went 1-2 in 52 relief appearances in 2012 and is 15-10 with one save in 297 career games. The 28-year-old Anan, who is in his third year in pro baseball, did not make any appearances for the top team this year and had a 7.99 ERA in 22 career games for Orix.
Yamamoto led the Giants’ farm club with nine homers and 45 RBIs in 2011, but batted just .265 this season in the Eastern League. He plays first base and third.
Nakata out of action
Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters slugger Sho Nakata, who was struck by a pitch from Yomiuri Giants starter Hirokazu Sawamura in Game 2 of the Japan Series, will require three weeks of recovery after he was diagnosed with a broken fifth metacarpal bone, the Fighters said Monday.
The injury means that Nakata, who hit 24 home runs with 77 RBIs while playing in each of his team’s 144 regular season games, is a question mark for Japan’s international friendlies later this month against Cuba in the warmup to the 2013 World Baseball Classic.
Nakata was one of two batters, including Fighters leadoff man Yang Dai-kang, who was hit in the hand in the first inning at Tokyo Dome on Oct. 28. Nakata was replaced on defense in left field in the fourth inning.
He was initially diagnosed with a bruised hand at a Tokyo hospital after suffering the injury and was back in the cleanup spot for Game 3. Nakata played through the injury throughout the series and hit a game-tying, three-run homer in Game 6.
Tigers target Fukudome
Hanshin Tigers general manager Katsuhiro Nakamura said Monday he is thinking of acquiring the services of outfielder Kosuke Fukudome, who was released from the New York Yankees’ Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre farm club at the end of the season.
“It (talks) would probably be once he’s back in Japan. As far as I know, he isn’t back yet,” said Nakamura about the 35-year-old Fukudome, who is also reportedly being pursued by his former team, the Chunichi Dragons, and the Yokohama BayStars.
Fukudome appeared in just 24 games for the Chicago White Sox this season before he was released on June 22 and signed a minor league deal with the Yankees affiliate on July 13.
The Osaka native batted a career .258 with 195 RBIs and 42 home runs in 596 games over parts of five seasons with the Chicago Cubs (2008-11), Cleveland Indians (2011) and White Sox (2012) organizations. Fukudome was the Central League’s MVP in 2006.