The Orix Buffaloes of Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball are going to post outfielder Masataka Yoshida, according to a report from Yahoo Japan, making him eligible to explore opportunities with MLB clubs. (hat tip to JJ Cooper from Baseball America and Jason Coskrey on Twitter.) The Japanese-language link lists the Yankees, Mariners, and Blue Jays as those with interest.
Yoshida, 29, made his NPB debut with the Buffaloes in 2016 and has since established himself as a key contributor at the plate. In 2022, he played in 119 games, hitting 21 home runs and producing an overall batting line of .335/.447/.561. That level of production and Yoshida’s age should lead to him garnering plenty of interest from North American teams.
This year’s market for free agent outfielders isn’t huge in terms of quantity. MLBTR’s list of the top free agents featured Aaron Judge in the top spot and Brandon Nimmo at number nine. Those guys are both likely to receive nine-figure deals, but then there’s only a few guys capable of everyday jobs in the middle of the list. Joc Pederson accepted the qualifying offer to return to the Giants, leaving Andrew Benintendi, Mitch Haniger and Jurickson Profar as some of the few mid-market options. Then there are some guys likely to require less cost but with injury risks, such as Michael Conforto and Michael Brantley.
Teams will likely have wide variance in how they evaluate Yoshida, but it’s unlikely he will earn a contract that rivals the top-market guys. Seiya Suzuki was another highly-touted slugger who was posted a year ago and he eventually signed with the Cubs for five years and $85MM. He was 27 years old at the time, two years younger than Yoshida is now. That likely makes it difficult for Yoshida to beat Suzuki’s guarantee, though it’s possible some team values him significantly higher than the Cubs valued Suzuki. For the teams that miss out on the top free agent outfielders, Yoshida should add an interesting new option for the next tier of the market.
The fact that the Blue Jays and Mariners are two of the teams listed as being interested in Yoshida is quite interesting, given that those two clubs swung a trade earlier today to send Teoscar Hernandez from Toronto to Seattle. That gives the Blue Jays a clear opening in their outfield mix that they could slot Yoshida into. They do have George Springer, Lourdes Gurriel Jr. and Whit Merrifield, though Merrifield took over as the everyday second baseman down the stretch and could play there again in 2023. They’ve already been connected to Nimmo since the departure of Hernandez but Yoshida could also make sense.
For the Mariners, they now have Hernandez and Julio Rodriguez taking up two spots in their outfield mix, with Jesse Winker, Jarred Kelenic, Taylor Trammell, Sam Haggerty and Kyle Lewis on hand as options for a third spot. Winker has been mentioned as being available in trade discussions, but it would be a surprise to see the club fill out that last outfield position and block all of its young options from a path into the regular lineup.
For the Yankees, they have a clear need in the outfield with both Judge and Benintendi having reached free agency recently. They have Harrison Bader in place for center field but will likely be looking to add two outfielders before Opening Day. They have Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Hicks on hand but Stanton has largely been a designated hitter for a while and can’t be counted on for everyday action in the outfield while Hicks is coming off a second straight disappointing year at the plate.
Once Yoshida is formally posted, there will be a 30-day window where MLB clubs can negotiate with his representatives. If a deal is reached, the signing team will also owe money to the Buffaloes, with that amount being relative to the size of the contract given. Any big league team that signs him would owe the Buffaloes a fee equal to 20% of the contract’s first $25MM, 17.5% of the next $25MM and 15% of any dollars thereafter. If he does not reach an agreement with an MLB team, he will return to the Buffaloes for 2023.