The Reds have told Shogo Akiyama that he will not make the Opening Day roster, Reds GM Nick Krall told The Athletic’s C. Trent Rosecrans and other reporters. The team has also told minor league signings Trey Wingenter and Andrew Knapp that they won’t be breaking camp.
Akiyama’s three-year, $21MM contract gives him the right to decline a minor league assignment, and he already turned down a visit to Triple-A near the end of the 2021 season (he did see some minors action last year as part of a rehab assignment). If Akiyama does indeed decline to go to Triple-A again, the Reds seem set to designate him for assignment, and in all likelihood eat the $8MM owed to the outfielder for the 2021 season.
After nine seasons as a standout performance for the Saitama Seibu Lions of Nippon Professional Baseball, Akiyama came to Major League Baseball and hit only .224/.320/.274 over 366 plate appearances in a Cincinnati uniform. His first season had some flashes of promise, as Akiyama was a finalist for NL Gold Glove Award in left field and he posted a .357 OBP in 183 plate appearances. However, he started off the 2021 season with a month-long stint on the IL with a hamstring problem and simply never got on track, playing in 88 games and amassing 183 PA as a part-time player.
Akiyama was blunt about his performance when speaking with Rosecrans and other reporters through a translator, saying “with two years, that’s the results that are out there” and “it’s just unfortunate how I don’t have that many memorable moments.” Of course, Akiyama did come to the majors just before the pandemic altered the world, but he only alluded to those unusual circumstances by saying that “I don’t know what the actual true self with me is….But realistically, I still can play. I can play hard. I know I can play. So I just have to move forward with this situation.”
The contract ended up being an expensive misfire for the Reds, which stands out even more given how the team has been paring back its payroll for much of the last two offseasons, particularly this winter. There doesn’t seem like any chance that another team would claim Akiyama on DFA waivers and thus absorb his entire $8MM salary, so if a team is interested, it can wait out the waiver period and then sign Akiyama to only a minimum salary, with the Reds covering the rest of the $8MM owed.
Even considering Akiyama’s lack of Major League production, it seems possible that another team might take a flier on him for such a limited cost. The Padres, Cubs, Diamondbacks, Rays, Blue Jays, and Cardinals all had some level of interest in Akiyama when he came over from NPB, so at least one of those former suitors might take a look to see if Akiyama (who turns 34 this month) can break out in a new environment.
Wingenter and Knapp both signed minor league deals just barely before the lockout was implemented. Wingenter has only pitched two innings this spring due to an elbow injury, and the righty has already told the Reds that he won’t be exercising his opt-out. Knapp has until Monday to decide whether or not to use his own opt-out, after Aramis Garcia won the competition to be Cincinnati’s backup catcher.