NPB star and MLB hopeful Yoshitomo Tsutsugo spoke to reporters for the first time since his posting on Nov 18, indicating that he will have not have a specific geographic location in mind when assessing his options among major league clubs, according to a report from The Japan Times.
As the report notes, four of Japan’s six current major leaguers, Kenta Maeda, Shohei Ohtani, Yusei Kikuchi, and Yoshihisa Hirano, signed with teams in the western portion of the states after their own postings in recent offseasons. Flights to Japan are, obviously, much more manageable from the West Coast, but Tsutsugo was concise and unequivocal in saying that he’ll consider playing for any MLB team: “Wherever the team is located is fine, so no,” Tsutsugo said when asked if a team’s region would be a chief consideration.
Tsutsugo, who turns 28 on Tuesday, represents one of the more interesting outfield options available this winter. For teams not quite ready to jump into the melee surrounding Nicholas Castellanos or Marcell Ozuna, Tsutsugo could represent something of a relative value play. The slugger posted a .293/.402/.574 slash line over his last four seasons in Japan, with 139 home runs, 116 doubles, five triples, and a 15.1 percent walk rate to his credit. However, he did post a 2019 season that was somewhat below his typical Nippon standards (.272/.388/.511, 29 home runs).
The Marlins, for one, have already been connected to a number of outfield bats this winter, with both Castellanos and Ozuna coming to mind as high-profile names who may be fielding calls from Miami team president of baseball operations Michael Hill. The club also appears to have some in interest Tsutsugo, as SiriusXM’s Craig Mish recently reported (Twitter link); Mish does caution that the club may view Tsutsugo as more of a “secondary type”, perhaps reflecting some industry concerns surrounding the lefty swinger’s defensive capabilities in the corner outfield. It’s worth noting, however, that the NPB star does have some experience at first base, which could be helpful for a Miami club that largely deployed a light-hitting combination of Neil Walker, Garrett Cooper, and the recently retired Martin Prado at that spot in 2019.
Under the new posting system, which went into effect after Ohtani’s signing, the team that agrees to sign Tsutsugo will also need to pay a release fee to his original club, the Yokohama DeNA BayStars, that will be determined by the relative size of the contract. The MLB team that signs this slugger will pay Yokohama 20% of guaranteed money up to $25MM, 17.5% for promised cash between $25MM and $50MM, and then 15% of anything beyond. There are also some provisions that allow for additional release fees in the event that certain non-guaranteed earnings are triggered. As a ten-year NPB veteran, he will not be subject to the restrictions on international signings that limited the earning potential of Ohtani. Tsutsugo and his reps at Wasserman Agency have until Dec 19 to finalize a contract with a major league team.