This morning there were reports coming out of Japan from Nikkan Sports that the Cincinnati Reds and free agent outfielder Shogo Akiyama had agreed to a deal for 3-years and more than $15M. As was covered earlier this afternoon, the rumors surrounding the situation evolved as the day went on with conflicting reports about the agreement being in place and just how much money was involved. Joel Sherman is reporting that the agreement is final on a 3-year deal. There is no report on the details as far as money goes, yet.
— Joel Sherman (@Joelsherman1) December 30, 2019
As was reported on Friday, Shogo Akiyama was said to have come down to the San Diego Padres and the Cincinnati Reds in his decision making process. The reports were that he was going to make his decision before the new year. Well, it appears that today was the day that the decision was made.
Shogo Akiyama has been a different player in the second half of his career in Japan. Since the 2015 season began he’s hit .321/.399/.497 over 3368 plate appearances. That’s come with 364 walks and 482 strikeouts. He’s also played in every single game that his team has participated in during that stretch of time – showing outstanding health along the way.
The big question with regards to Shogo Akiyama and the Cincinnati Reds is exactly where he fits in. The outfield for Cincinnati is already very crowded. You’ve got Nick Senzel, Jesse Winker, Aristides Aquino, Phillip Ervin, Mark Payton, Travis Jankowski, Nick Martini, and Josh VanMeter – all of whom you can at least argue should have a spot on the 2020 roster. Some of those players HAVE to be on the roster or placed on waivers, too. Payton is a Rule 5 draft pick and must remain on the roster all season or be offered back. It’s hard to see how Nick Senzel or Jesse Winker aren’t on the team unless they are injured or traded. Phillip Ervin has shown that he’s a quality backup outfield option. And then there’s Aristides Aquino, who had one incredible month in August and then a month on the strugglebus in September of last year.
While reports on Shogo Akiyama’s speed and defensive ability in center field being on the decline, given that the Reds actually started Jesse Winker – one of the slowest players on their entire roster – in center field multiple times last season, Akiyama can probably handle center field for Cincinnati in at least a backup role.
As a left-handed hitter, the Reds can add Akiyama to the mix of players that they could platoon, or pick-and-choose with to attempt to maximize their productivity. From the left side the team could choose Jesse Winker, Shogo Akiyama, Mark Payton, Josh VanMeter, Travis Jankowski, Nick Martini, or perhaps Scott Schebler for a variety of options in the outfield. From the right side of the plate the options include Nick Senzel, Phillip Ervin, and Aristides Aquino. The options that could be there are endless. Obviously not all of those players will make the 26-man roster, but you can see how the outfield in particular could see a lot of mixing-and-matching depending on who the opposing pitcher happens to be on a given day.
Reds General Manager Nick Krall told The Cincinnati Enquirer at the Winter Meetings that the team didn’t view Akiyama strictly as a center fielder.
I think you look at him for a number of different spots out there and how he can help your roster now.
We haven’t heard anything from the Reds beyond that. And we probably won’t until things are finalized. My take is that Cincinnati is going to have Nick Senzel in center field most days, but the corners will likely be platoon-y with a rotation that heavily includes Jesse Winker, Shogo Akiyama, and Aristides Aquino. I would expect to see Akiyama get a handful of starts in center field throughout the year, but more than likely get most of his time in the corners.
With the signing, once official of course, there will no longer be a team in Major League Baseball that has never had a Japanese player. The Cincinnati Reds were the only team that had never had a player from Japan on their roster. That will no longer be the case once things become official.