The Hiroshima Carp of Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball could make top outfielder Seiya Suzuki available to Major League teams via the posting system this winter, according to a report from Yahoo Japan. The Carp have begun taking some of the necessary steps, per the report, conducting a recent MRI for updated medical records and beginning to put together the requisite paperwork.
There’s still no guarantee that Suzuki will ultimately be made available this winter, but the outfielder himself acknowledged his desire to eventually test his skills against Major League pitching during an August interview with Dylan Hernandez of the the L.A. Times. “I think everyone feels they want to play at the highest stage if they can get the chance,” Suzuki told Hernandez.
While reports of well-regarded NPB and KBO players potentially being made available to MLB clubs are common around this time of every year, Suzuki is a bit of a different case. Having recently turned 27 years old, he’s much younger than most players who are made available through the posting system or wait until accruing nine full years of service time to reach unrestricted international free agency. He’s also widely regarded as one of the best players in NPB.
Hernandez quotes a big league scout calling Suzuki a “five-tool guy” and “the best player in Japan the last few years.” Sung Min Kim, who’s written for both FanGraphs and The Athletic, tweets that several MLB Pacific Rim scouts have considered Suzuki the top NPB or KBO player with a realistic chance of being posted in recent years. Longtime Orioles center fielder Adam Jones, who’s spent the past two seasons playing against him in Japan, tweets that Suzuki is an MLB-caliber talent. Ted Baarda of Sports Info Solutions wrote last October that Suzuki fits the strong-armed, power-hitting profile of a prototypical right fielder.
While there’s a gap in terms of the quality of pitching he’d face, everything Suzuki has done in NPB indicates that he’s indeed one of the most talented hitters in that league. He made his NPB debut at just 18 years of age in 2013, and while it was only an 11-game cup of coffee, he’d cemented himself as a regular for the Carp by his age-20 season. Suzuki posted a .731 OPS that year (2015), and that was the last time he’s had an OPS south of .936 in any given season.
Dating back to 2018, the right-handed-hitting Suzuki has put together a combined .319/.435/.592 batting line with 121 home runs, 115 doubles, four triples and 44 stolen bases (albeit in 72 attempts) through 2167 plate appearances. That includes 38 home runs and 26 doubles in just 526 plate appearances this season. Since 2018, Suzuki has walked at a huge 16 percent clip that is almost a mirror image of his 16.4 percent strikeout rate. He broke into NPB as an infielder, but he moved to right field in 2016 and has gone on to win four Gold Gloves for his work there.
The recent track record of outfielders making the move from NPB to MLB hasn’t been great, as neither Shogo Akiyama nor Yoshi Tsutsugo has lived up to expectations with their respective contracts (three years, $21MM from the Reds to Akiyama; two years, $12MM from the Rays to Tsutsugo). That said, Suzuki’s case looks quite a bit more compelling. Akiyama was posted in advance of his age-32 season and had never matched Suzuki’s power. Tsutsugo had more comparable power, but he also had significant strikeout issues in NPB and was not considered a good defender.
If Suzuki is indeed posted for big league clubs this winter, he’ll be the youngest and one of the most intriguing options on the corner outfield market. Alternatives, at present, include Kyle Schwarber, Michael Conforto, Joc Pederson, Eddie Rosario, Tommy Pham, Jorge Soler and (depending on where you’d play him) Kris Bryant. Nick Castellanos is widely expected to opt out of the final two years of his deal with the Reds, and Avisail Garcia seems likely to decline his half of a $12MM mutual option in favor of a $2MM buyout and a return to the free-agent market. Castellanos and Conforto will likely be tagged with qualifying offers, and it’s at least feasible (though less likely) that Milwaukee would consider the same for Garcia.
Suzuki wouldn’t come with the draft pick compensation as free agents who reject that QO, but as a posted player, he’d cost his new team more than just the base value of his contract. Under the latest iteration of the NPB-MLB posting system, all 30 clubs would be able to negotiate freely with Suzuki. The team with which he eventually signs would then owe a release fee to Suzuki’s former team, the Carp. That fee correlates directly with the size of the contract. Any team that signed Suzuki would pay a sum of 20 percent of a contract’s first $25MM to the Carp. The fee also includes 17.5 percent of the next $25MM and 15 percent of any dollars spent thereafter.
The release fee would be on top of the actual contract for Suzuki. For example (and not to say this is the type of contract Suzuki will command), a $50MM contract would cost a big league team a total of $59.375MM — $50MM to the player and $9.375MM to the former NPB club. Option years and incentives/bonuses are also factored in if they are eventually unlocked (e.g. a $10MM club option tacked on top of that theoretical $50MM deal would require the MLB club to pay $1.5MM to the NPB team once it is picked up — 15 percent of the guarantee beyond $50MM).
The posting process for Suzuki wouldn’t begin until after the conclusion of this year’s NPB season. Posting windows last for 30 days, and the fact that negotiations with Suzuki would coincide with ongoing collective bargaining negotiations between MLB and the MLB Players Association could complicate matters. If the Carp decide against posting Suzuki, or if he is posted and does not agree to a deal with a Major League team, Suzuki would return to the Carp for his age-27 campaign next year. He’s still two years from unrestricted free agency, so if he doesn’t come to MLB via the posting system this winter, it’s possible yet that the Carp could post him a second time next winter.