- Associated Press - Thursday, December 16, 2010

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) - 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.

The agreement was first reported by SI.com.

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.


AP Sports Writer Ronald Blum contributed to this report.

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