Tsuyoshi Nishioka, a 26-year-old middle infielder for the Chiba Lotte Marines of the Pacific League in Japan, will be posted for MLB teams this week, a source close to the situation said Monday.
Nishioka won the Pacific League batting title this year with a .346 average. He scored 121 runs, stole 22 bases and had 206 hits. Nishioka, a switch-hitter, batted leadoff for the Marines and his team recently won the Japan Series.
"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."
The bidding on a posted player is a blind auction and doesn't begin until after the World Series in the United States. Teams must pay a posting fee, which goes directly to the Japanese team and only covers the negotiating rights to that player. If the winning team doesn't sign the player within 30 days, the player returns to his original team and no fee is paid. When Daisuke Matsuzaka was posted before the 2007 season, the Red Sox paid $51 million just for the right to negotiate with him.
Nishioka might be an attractive free agent for major league teams in a year with a weaker-than-normal free-agent class, especially for middle infielders.
Derek Jeter, Juan Uribe, Orlando Cabrera, Edgar Renteria and Cesar Izturis are the top free-agent shortstops. Orlando Hudson, Jerry Hairston Jr., Nick Punto, Felipe Lopez, David Eckstein and Cristian Guzman are also eligible for free agency.
Nishioka can play either shortstop or second base. He played second in the World Baseball Classic in 2006 and 2009, as well as the Beijing Olympics when he hit .455.
"I think that most organizations will think he will be better on the other side of the base [second base]," Valentine said. "He doesn't look like a classic major league shortstop. I don't know if that look will transfer here. But I think he can be an outstanding shortstop."
Tim Kurkjian is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine.