The Pirates have interest in re-signing first baseman/outfielder Yoshi Tsutsugo and have already “had dialogue” with his camp, general manager Ben Cherington told reporters yesterday (Twitter link via Jason Mackey of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette).
Pittsburgh was Tsutsugo’s third organization in two MLB seasons. Originally signed by the Rays to a two-year, $12MM contract, the former Yokohama DeNA BayStars slugger was unable to find his footing in St. Petersburg or in Los Angeles, after being picked up by the Dodgers. The Pirates signed him midway through August and enjoyed a productive six-week stretch from Tsutsugo to close out the season.
It was only a sample of 144 plate appearances, but Tsutsugo swatted eight home runs as a Pirate — matching his 2020 season output — and notched an impressive .268/.347/.535 batting line down the stretch (134 wRC+, 136 OPS+). After punching out in nearly a third of his plate appearances between the Dodgers and Rays, Tsutsugo curbed that to a much more reasonable 22.9 percent. Statcast credited Tsutsugo with 10 barreled balls in Pittsburgh — just one fewer than he’d turned in through 303 plate appearances between Tampa and L.A. in 2020-21.
It’s not clear just what role Tsutsugo would hold if he did return to the Bucs, though given their rebuilding state, it wouldn’t be hard to slot him into the lineup. Colin Moran is currently slated to play first base in 2022, although with a projected $4MM salary and an injury-marred 2021 showing, he may not be a lock to return. Bryan Reynolds is obviously a lock in center field, but the corners are a bit more open for now. Ben Gamel may have played his way into a 2022 role, but there’s a fair bit of uncertainty. It’s also quite possible the National League will have a designated hitter in 2022, which would make it easier for the Bucs to get Tsutsugo in the lineup.
From a payroll vantage point, there’s obvious space for a handful of offseason additions. The Pirates, somewhat remarkably, don’t have a single guaranteed contract on the books in 2022. They have 11 players up for arbitration this winter, headlined by Reynolds, but those 11 names come with a combined projected salary of just $27.9MM — and some will surely be non-tendered.