Report: Tsuyoshi Nishioka, Twins agree

MINNEAPOLIS -- Japanese batting champion Tsuyoshi Nishioka and the Minnesota Twins reached preliminary agreement Thursday on a three-year contract worth about $10 million, a person familiar with the negotiations told The Associated Press.

The person spoke on condition of anonymity because the deal was not yet final.

Twins general manager Bill Smith said Thursday that Nishioka arrived in town earlier in the day from Japan for negotiations and physical exams. Last season's Pacific League leader with a .346 batting average, Nishioka can play shortstop or second base, and the Twins have openings at both positions after trading J.J. Hardy and letting Orlando Hudson become a free agent. Longtime utilityman Nick Punto also became a free agent.

Minnesota last month submitted the highest bid for Nishioka's negotiating rights to his Japanese team, the Chiba Lotte Marines, gaining a 30-day window to sign him. Nishioka had 206 hits last season, becoming the Pacific League's first player to reach 200 since Ichiro Suzuki, now a star with the Seattle Mariners.

Also Thursday, the Twins traded backup catcher Jose Morales to Colorado for minor-league left-hander Paul Bargas.

The 22-year-old Bargas was 5-4 with a 3.59 ERA and five saves in 67 2-3 innings for Class A Asheville last season. He was drafted by the Rockies in the 13th round in 2009.

Morales hurt his wrist last winter and watched rookie Drew Butera take over as the primary backup to Joe Mauer. The 27-year-old spent most of the season with Triple-A Rochester, batting .194 in 36 at-bats after a September callup with the Twins.

Also Thursday, the Twins traded catcher Jose Morales to the Colorado Rockies for left-handed pitcher Paul Bargas.

Morales hit .194 with seven RBIs in 19 games with the Twins last season. The 27-year-old has a .297 batting average in three seasons.

The Rockies are searching for a reliable backup for Chris Iannetta after trading Miguel Olivo in the offseason. The team also has Michael McKenry, Jordan Pacheco and Wilin Rosario on the active roster.

Bargas, a 22-year-old lefty, was 5-4 with a 3.59 ERA and five saves in 58 appearances for Single-A Asheville last year.

He was picked by Colorado in the 13th round in 2009 out of the University of California-Riverside.

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.