OCT. 30: Akiyama has informed the Lions that he’ll file for free agency in hopes of signing in MLB, Allen reports.
OCT. 21: You may have noticed that this winter’s slate of free agents isn’t exactly teeming with high-end center fielders. That state of affairs led us to examine recently what could be a robust trade market for Pirates star Starling Marte. With so much demand and so little obvious supply, the timing may be just right for a relatively unknown option up the middle.
Center fielder Shogo Akiyama is known well to fans of Nippon Professional Baseball. The 31-year-old, a left-handed hitter, has starred for the Seibu Lions since a breakout 2015 season. He’s a .301 lifetime hitter with strong plate discipline. More recently, his power has been on the rise, with a total of 69 home runs over the past three seasons.
Akiyama has long carried an excellent reputation for glovework up the middle, veteran NPB scribe Jim Allen observes, though it seems that his prowess may have taken a bit of a downturn more recently. No doubt MLB scouts have taken a close look for themselves already. Akiyama isn’t exceptionally youthful, but he has been quite durable, so that’s another feather in his cap.
NPB recently confirmed that Akiyama is an international free agent, meaning he’s free to sign with any team in any league in the world without going through a posting system. The lack of a transfer fee certainly increases the appeal. MLB teams can approach Akiyama more or less as they would any other available player.
As a recent Yahoo Japan report covers, the Seibu Lions have made clear that they intend to pursue Akiyama with a long-term offer. Other NPB clubs may also be involved, that report indicates. But MLB outfits have been tracking him as well. The report suggests that at least four teams — the Mariners, Padres, Diamondbacks, and Cubs — have at least taken a look at Akiyama.
Akiyama is not the only intriguing Japanese player who’ll factor in the offseason market. Fellow star outfielder Yoshitomo Tsutsugo has already indicated a clear interest in coming over via the posting system; it remains to be seen how his market will develop.