The Cincinnati Reds have never had a Japanese player on their team. They are the only team in the Major Leagues that can say that. But this offseason their needs align with the availability of at least one Japanese player, but perhaps two.
One of those players is free agent Shogo Akiyama. How does he fit for the Reds? Well, he’s a center fielder currently. And Cincinnati could be in the market for one of those thanks to the position flexibility of Nick Senzel, who could slide to second base if the team found the right center fielder. In the last five seasons with Seibu he’s hit .321/.399/.497. Last season he hit .303/.392/.471. In that stretch he hasn’t missed a game.
To put into context what that line means, the league hit .252/.326/.392 as a whole in 2019. But his team hit .265/.344/.428 – leading the league in OPS by 40 points. Their pitching staff was also dead last in ERA – by 0.30. These two things may suggest that the home ballpark favors hitters (they were first in OPS and last in ERA in 2018 as well).
Shogo Akiyama is certainly a standout hitter among the league. And in the past he’s been known to be a good defender, too. But he’ll be 32-years-old in April and his speed and defense seem to have been moving in the wrong direction. This is an area where you’re going to want to lean on your scouts that have watched the league. While the Reds haven’t had a player from Japan, they do have a presence there and are actively scouting.
If there’s a chance that he can still handle center field, this is the kind of target the Reds should be seeking. Akiyama looks like he’d be a good hitter (not a great one) and fill a spot of need. But if he’s going to be a corner outfielder, things get a lot less rosy. The bat doesn’t play nearly as well there, and the Reds have options in the corner outfield spots that can’t slide elsewhere on the diamond like they do in center.
Shogo Akiyama’s recent stats
Many of the hitting stats stand out and look good. The one area that doesn’t, though, is on the bases. In 2016 and 2017 Shogo Akiyama was solid on the bases, stealing 34 and being caught 11 times between the two seasons. But the other three years? Not great, Bob. In the last two seasons he’s stolen 27 bases and been caught 18 times. Assuming that Akiyama does come to the Major Leagues for 2020, even if it’s not with the Reds, it will be interesting to see what happens to his base running numbers.
What about Yoshitomo Tsutsugo?
Shogo Akiyama isn’t the only big name that could be on the market from Japan in Major League Baseball this offseason. The Yohohama DeNA Baystars have said that they plan to post slugger Yoshitomo Tsutsugo.
His breakout season came in 2016 when he hit 44 home runs and posted an OPS of 1.110 as a 24-year-old. He hasn’t quite repeated that performance since. In the last three seasons he’s hit 28, 38, and 29 home runs. His OPS has ranged between .899 (2019) and .989 in those three seasons. He’s still been a very good hitter, but nothing like what he was back in 2016.
Yoshitomo Tsutsugo, however, may not fit in much with Cincinnati. At best he’s a below-average defender in left. The advanced stats suggest he’s a terrible defender. A team that could play him at first base, or use him as a designated hitter would likely feel more comfortable paying him more than a team who doesn’t have that option – again showing the ridiculousness that Major League Baseball has different sets of rules for National and American League teams.
His power would likely play well. And he’s got a pretty strong on-base percentage thanks to a high walk rate. But he also had one of the highest strikeout rates in the league, and it would likely rise in the Major Leagues. He’s younger than Shogo Akiyama by four years. That plays into his favor, but as it relates to the Reds specifically, he’s probably lesser of a fit due to his defensive abilities and positions available.
We need OBP batters. For example, last year, we hit 172 HR’s and scored 696 runs. This year, we hit 227 HR’s, 55 more HR’s, but only scored 701 runs, only 5 more runs. How can that be? Simply because we couldn’t get people on base.
Shogo could possibly work, especially if he could give us, say, 3 years of decent CF play. Even with that, he may have the potential of going even longer at one of the corner OF positions, also, aka Ichiro. As well as, even if his numbers are declining, his numbers are still probably better than many of the Reds right now.
That may be one to go after. Big question, though, the cost? Are we talking $30 million per? Or, $5 million per? Definitely one to consider.
In taking a quick look at some of those players, I see there are several players who have even higher OBP than Shogo does. I wonder if any of them are younger and can still play the OF?
I’m on record as preferring to see Senzel in center and JVM at second. The Reds big offensive problems are at shortstop and catcher. But if a stud center fielder allowed the Reds to move Senzel to second that could be a meaningful upgrade for the offense. In that scenario JVM becomes expendable (along with anyone still around from the list of Dietrich, Peraza and Galvis, and, if they resign, Iglesias and/or Gennett). That could also open up more options to trade for upgrades at SS or C. BUT I would only prefer this approach if the new center fielder is a potential game changer in the middle of the lineup. Mookie Betts, yes. Jackie Bradley, Jr., no. I don’t know enough about Shogo Akiyama, but to me that’s the litmus test. If he’s a modest upgrade to the lineup I’d pass. If he can potentially transform it then I’d say yes. The only other detail here that might make you lean toward a yes is that he can be acquired for dollars rather than players. Saving major leaguers and prospects for other trades could be an important detail. So put me down as a definite maybe…
I doubt Vanmeter will be anything more than league average given a full time job.
I like Vanmeter so if he is the regular 2B I sure hope I am wrong.
You can thank David Bell (and the FO) for the doubts on Van Meter. He wasn’t given a fair chance. Nearly the opposite. First time up, he gathered dust at the end of the bench. Second time up, he gets a chance and just as he’s showing he’s earned it and within short reach of taking over 2nd, they go and claim Galvis off the waiver wire and give him the job. (Tough luck kid) After that, they need JVM cuz Winker is out so he gets AB’s, but he’s basically treated like the kid in little league that you have to play ‘cuz everybody has to play and get a trophy. Predictably his performance fell off, whose wouldn’t? Frustrated, I’m sure he vented plenty after hours with his pal Senzel who is plenty frustrated himself at this point, but by now opinions have been formed and well, here we are. Not only are folks doubtful about JVM, they’re doubtful about Senzel and moving on to Aquino. All thanks to the human resource skills of Bell (and FO) for failing to show or instill any confidence in their own kids. And if they don’t, why should the fans.
Until we get a chance to see JVM or Senzel put into positions where they have the best possible chance of success we’ll never know what they can achieve. I hope it’s the Reds that give them the chance. They’re smart young ballplayers, the kind that don’t just grow on trees. I’m sure Dave Roberts would love to have them.
(apologies Redsfan4life, sorry I used your comment as a diving board, i simply saw the opportunity and ran 🙂
I think that Vanmeter will be a good player for us and provide us with a consistently solid lefthanded bat.
Sounds like a solid “No” to both, at least let’s hope so.
Too much downside to both of these players and too little upside. Plus I assume you have to pay a posting fee. There has to be better places to spend dollars.
Nice junior GMing there JJ.
I like all of those moves. Then I would be adding LH’s for the pen
I agree. Shogo Akiyama could be a nice veteran addition that would allow the Reds to move Senzel around or give a good option defensively if Senzel misses time.
I know nothing about him but I like the name Shogo. An Asian player could provide some spark similar to the year Choo was here.