MLB hot stove: Japanese slugger Yoshitomo Tsutsugo will be posted for MLB teams this offseason
Tsutsugo has hit 139 home runs the last four years
The MLB postseason is in full swing, but it is never too early to look ahead to the hot stove season, and a big new free agent will be available this winter. The Yokohama DeNA BayStars in Japan announced Monday that they will post slugging outfielder Yoshitomo Tsutsugo for MLB teams this offseason.
"To be able to replace Tsutsugo is going to be very, very hard," BayStars manager Alex Ramirez told reporters, including Jason Coskrey of the Japan Times.
"I've had this dream since I was little, so I told the team that I wanted to play with the intent of moving to the majors," Tsutsugo told the Kyodo News in Nov. 2018. Jumping to MLB has been on his mind for a while now.
Tsutsugo, 28 in November, has been one of the most productive power hitters in Japan the last four seasons after battling numerous injuries earlier in his career, including a wrist ligament issue. Here are Tsutsugo's recent stats:
The 2019 season was Tsutsugo's worst since his 2016 breakout, which may give some MLB teams pause. At the same time, he's shown big time power, and he is right smack in the prime of his career. This offseason could be an opportunity to grab a productive power-hitting outfielder at a below-market rate.
Here's what you need to know about Tsutsugo and the posting process.
How good is he exactly?
Quite good, but he's not without his flaws. Tsutsugo's left-handed power and strike zone knowledge is very real. He has military style plate discipline and is known for his towering home runs with the BayStars. An example:
In a piece for FanGraphs last year, current Lotte Giants (Korea) front office staffer Sung Min Kim wrote Tsutsugo has a Bryce Harper-like swing, meaning "an open stance, a trigger to shift the weight back, the hands held high before launch, and then boom." Here's more from Kim:
The main concern with Tsutsugo is that some believe he might end up being a one-dimensional strikeout-or-home-run player in the MLB. If his hit tool can play along with his raw power, then you may have a worthwhile everyday outfielder in the majors. It also helps that he has displayed high OBP approaches, which counts a lot!
Tsutsugo is not regarded as a strong defender -- he was an infielder earlier in his career before moving to left field full-time in 2014 -- who is relegated to left field. He'll have to hit and hit big to have value. Think Kyle Schwarber.
It's worth noting the most successful position players to come over from Japan have been outfielders: Nori Aoki, Hideki Matsui, and future Hall of Famer Ichiro Suzuki. Big name infielders like Kaz Matsui and Tsuyoshi Nishioka mostly flopped. There's some thought the speed of the game on the infield requires too much of an adjustment, and outfielders have a better chance at MLB success.
How does the posting process work?
Tsutsugo will not qualify for international free agency until after the 2021 season, so he must be posted to come over to MLB this offseason. It can sometimes be difficult to get the team to go along with that, but the BayStars are apparently willing.
Once a team posts a player, he has 30 days to negotiate a contract of any size with MLB teams. The player returns to his team in Japan if he's unable to agree to terms within the 30 days. The MLB team that signs the player plays his former club in Japan a "release fee" that is based on a percentage of his total contract guarantee:
- Contract worth $25 million or less: 20 percent of total guarantee.
- Contract worth $25 million and $50 million: $5 million plus 17.5 percent of amount over $25 million.
- Contract worth $50 million: $9.375 million plus 15 percent of amount over $50 million.
Players can be posted between Nov. 1 and Dec. 5, with the full 30-day negotiating window to follow. That ensures the process will not drag out into January (like Masahiro Tanaka in 2014) and hold up the rest of free agency.
The posting process was changed two years and Mariners lefty Yusei Kikuchi is the only player to jump to MLB under the current rules thus far. He signed a complicated four-year, $56 million contract with one player option year and multiple club option years. The Mariners paid his former team, the Seibu Lions, a release fee north of $10 million.
Which teams could be interested?
There have not yet been any reports or rumors connecting Tsutsugo to specific MLB teams. MLB teams of course scout Japan (some more than others), so he is a known entity. No club will have to hit up Google to begin research when the official posting announcement comes through.
Tsutsugo's market figures to include both contenders who want to add a prime-aged slugger to their win-now lineup and rebuilding teams eager to add a player young enough to be considered a building block. The Mariners are very much in a rebuild and they signed Kikuchi last year. The years ago the Angels, a team trying to compete, landed Shohei Ohtani.
These teams strike me as potential fits for Tsutsugo (to be clear, this is just my speculation):
- Chicago White Sox: Did you know White Sox right fielders hit six homers with a .565 OPS this season? I'm sure Eloy Jimenez would happily shift to right to get another big bat into the lineup.
- Cleveland Indians: The Indians could definitely use a left-handed power bat in their outfield, but money might be tight this offseason, even with Trevor Bauer gone.
- Colorado Rockies: If they're willing to pull the plug on Ian Desmond (a big if), they could put Tsutsugo in left field and move David Dahl to center field full-time.
- San Francisco Giants: Their outfield remains underwhelming overall and they're short on power. How much of a liability would Tsutsugo be defensively in Oracle Park?
- Seattle Mariners: They have a rich history with Japanese players (Ichiro, Hisashi Iwakuma, Kenji Johjima, etc.) and could easily make room in their outfield for Tsutsugo.
It's so early in the process that I would not rule out any MLB team pursuing Tsutsugo this offseason right now. It's harder to see some teams having interest than others, sure, but all 30 clubs will do their due diligence over the next few weeks, before the posting becomes official.
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