Two of the top players in the Pacific League were posted for major league service after the 2010 Japanese season.
Rakuten Eagles righthander Hisashi Iwakuma and Chiba Lotte Marines shortstop Tsuyoshi Nishioka are looking to test their skills in North America in 2011.
The Athletics already won the posting battle to negotiate exclusively with Iwakuma, 29, after Rakuten accepted a bid believed to be between $16 million-$18 million. The A’s had until Dec. 7 to work out a deal with Iwakuma, but negotiations got off to a rocky start and Iwakuma was already threatening to return to Japan for another season. If no deal gets done, Oakland would recoup the posting fee.
Nishioka, 26, was still waiting to hear which team would win his posting battle. Japanese media speculated as many as six teams were interested, naming the Padres, Dodgers, Tigers, Twins, Orioles and Red Sox. The posting period ends Tuesday.
Iwakuma has a 101-62, 3.32 record in nine seasons with the Kintetsu Buffaloes and Eagles, the team formed in 2005 when Kintetsu merged with the Orix BlueWave. He missed most of the 2006 and ’07 seasons with shoulder problems but restructured his mechanics and was the Pacific League MVP in 2008, when he went 21-4, 1.87. He finished 2010 at 10-9, 2.82, striking out 153 in 201 innings.
Iwakuma drew widespread international attention with his excellent work in the 2009 World Baseball Classic. He mixes a live fastball (touching 152 kph or 95 mph) and sharp-breaking slider with a forkball. He also consistently spots his pitches low in the strike zone.
Nishioka, the captain and leadoff man for the 2010 Japan Series champion Marines, is a switch-hitter with skills similar to those of Kaz Matsui. A career .293 hitter, he led the Pacific League in batting (.346), runs (121), hits (206) and total bases (287) this season. He is a speedster and a smart baserunner who stole 22 bases and hit eight triples this season. In 2005 when the Marines also won the Japan Series, Nishimura led the Pacific League with 41 steals and 11 triples.
Nishioka came up as a second baseman and can play either middle-infield position. Though he has excellent range, he is inconsistent and led the PL with 19 errors in 2010. He matured as a player under former Lotte manager Bobby Valentine from 2004-09. In 2006, he played for the Japan team that won the first World Baseball Classic, and he also played in the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.