First baseman Chris Gittens has agreed to a contract with the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles of Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball, per a team announcement. Gittens was released by the Yankees at the end of November, just prior to the beginning of the lockout. At that time, it was reported that the Yanks had granted him his release in order to allow him to pursue an opportunity with an NPB team.
Gittens has spent the entirety of his professional career thus far in the Yankees organization, having been drafted by them in 2014. Gittens has always hit well in the minors, but has limited roster versatility due to the fact that he’s only ever played first base. In 2021, he played 45 games at Triple-A and absolutely crushed, slashing .301/.440/.644, for an incredible wRC+ of 185. He couldn’t translate that production to the major league level, as he hit .111/.250/.194 in his first season of MLB action. However, due to bouncing between the two levels and sustaining a few injuries, that was a small sample of 44 plate appearances in 16 MLB games.
Gittens was potentially facing a similar situation in 2022, as he still has option years remaining and didn’t have a clear path to playing time in the Bronx. Luke Voit is currently pencilled in at first for the Yanks, and they have also been connected to other first basemen this offseason, such as Freddie Freeman, Anthony Rizzo and Matt Olson. There’s also the potential of the club adding to another infield position and pushing DJ Lemahieu into some first base duty.
For Gittens, who turns 28 in February, he will now have greater certainty about his job status and likely an increase in salary as well. If he is able to hit NPB pitching at a level anywhere close to the level he’s shown in the minors, he should be able to garner interest from MLB teams in bringing him back to North America, following the trajectory of other sluggers who returned after overseas success, such as Eric Thames or Darin Ruf.