Law: The Red Sox bet big on Masataka Yoshida; Cubs sign Jameson Taillon and more

The Red Sox made a safe choice by giving Masataka Yoshida, an outfielder who has spent his career in Japan’s NPB, their first major outlay of the offseason, signing him to a five-year, $90 million contract — money they could have spent on Willson Contreras, who would fulfilled a greater need. Yoshida didn’t even make my top 50 free agents, though he was eligible, as he’s an oft-injured outfielder whose power in Japan is unlikely to translate to MLB.

Yoshida’s most notable attribute is his flamboyant walk and strikeout rate — he rarely strikes out, often chokes in the bullpen to just hit the ball any way he can, and he’s walked more than he’s struck out in four straight years, with 64 unforced walks and 42 strikeouts in 2022. He hit .335/.447/.561 for the Orix Buffaloes this past season and .339/.429/.563 the year before, with 21 homers in each of those two years.

Of course, we’ve seen plenty of shortstops come from NPB to the big leagues and lose their home power somewhere across the Pacific Ocean. Seiya Suzuki hit 38 homers for Hiroshima in 2021 and 14 for the Cubs last year. Kosuke Fukudome hit 31 and 34 in his two best seasons for Chunichi, then hit 37 homers in the MLB… but it took him five seasons to do so. Yoshi Tsutsugo hit 44 and 38 homers in his two best years in the NPB, then totaled 18 in 182 major league games. NPB parks are smaller, and throwing is very different, not only in content but also in approach.

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The undersized Yoshida (5-foot-8, 176 pounds) has an extremely short, powerful swing that favors contact over hitting, almost as if he’s peppering infielders. Not only does such an approach provide no power, not even extra base power, but it can also leave hitters vulnerable to pitchers who can come in quickly. Ichiro was legendary for his inside-out swing and ability to make good contact almost anywhere he was lined up, but we’ve had a generation of hitters try to imitate him, and no one has succeeded. He is not a runner and is likely limited to left field. That leaves Boston’s investment entirely dependent on Yoshida’s ability to get on base, and that will likely take a hit as well, since pitchers won’t be throwing around a guy who doesn’t have the leverage to hurt them with extra bases. Yoshida probably won’t score much here, and that has some value, but he’s also likely to score more here than there. That leaves the Red Sox with a guy who gets on base with a decent enough slug, probably in the .350-360 range, without power, speed or much defensive value. He could be a regular on some teams, but I think for a contender he might be better suited as an extra outfielder – and if I’m right, this isn’t a good deal for Boston. Given the massive void they currently have behind the plate and the fact that Willson Contreras was just signed for less than Boston spent on Yoshida alone (before the $15.4 million posting fee), I’m just confused.

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• The Red Sox also agreed to sign right-hander Kenley Jansen to a two-year, $32 million deal, which is … fine. He’s no longer a big C Closer guy, and that’s probably more money per year than he should have been getting, but it’s hardly going to sink the payroll, and if they’re more comfortable with a veteran closer, they’re better off getting him on a two-year deal than a longer one. I figure Jansen gives them about two wins worth of production in about 110 innings over two years, factoring in some time off here and there due to minor injuries. My guess is that Alex Cora will leave Jansen for the final three outings and use one of his better relief options in high-leverage spots before then.

• The Cubs current rotation is Marcus Stroman and a bunch of fourth/fifth starters, so if they want to compete in 2023, they needed to add one and probably two more starting pitchers that are better than Justin Steele/Adrian Skupina Sampson. They got one of those Wednesday in Jameson Taillon, signing the former Yankee and Pirate to a four-year, $68 million deal that values ​​him more as a third/fourth baseman and leaves the team with some room to move forward if they continue to see improvement in his command. He’s a four-and-a-half-pitch guy who came back from his second Tommy John surgery to strike out more than ever, becoming a ground guy as well, though he can still be prone to homers because his command inside the zone isn’t great. He’s had his fair share of injuries, including two surgeries and a battle with testicular cancer, but he’s been mostly healthy the last two years, and he’s only 31 this year. The Cubs gave him almost exactly the contract I thought he should get, which I don’t take credit for, but I bet they see what I see – a solid mid-rotation guy who could still become more than that.

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• The Cubs also signed Cody Bellinger to a one-year, $17 million contract. I really have no idea what to say about Bellinger at this point. His pitch selection is terrible, his swing is the same as ever, but he looks a lot worse when he’s swinging at errant pitches, and he gives the Cubs a first baseman with elite defense who can also play in the outfield. I hope I can fix it.

• The Mets continued to bolster their rotation with a two-year deal with lefty José Quintana, who is back in a big way in 2022 after five years of replacement-level work. Quintana used his changeup more often last year, and that in turn made his four more effective, while still being able to get strikes on his curveball and throwing just about anything for strikes. I think his home run rate will revert (up) to the mean, but he could give the Mets some league average innings, or close to it, in the fourth and allow them to move Tylor Megill out of the rotation into a rotation role or be an extra guy if Justin Verlander or Max Scherzer need an extra day.

(File Photo: Kiyoshi Ota / Getty Images)


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