SAN DIEGO — On Wednesday afternoon, Red Sox chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom spoke glowingly of Japanese outfielder Masataka Yoshida.
“He’s someone that we like we spend a lot of time on,” Bloom said. “Really, really good hitter, quality at-bat, and a great talent.”
So, he was asked, would the Red Sox be involved in the bidding for the Orix Buffaloes star?
“Beyond what I said about the player, I don’t want to get into it,” Bloom said.
But minutes later, news broke that suggested the Red Sox would let their money speak for their interest. Multiple major league sources confirmed that Yoshida had reached a five-year, $90 million agreement with the Red Sox. The Sox will also pay a $15.375 million posting fee to Orix to acquire Yoshida — who remained under team control because he had not yet reached 10 years of service time in the NPB.
Yoshida, who turned 29 in July, hit .335/.447/.561 with 21 homers and nearly twice as many walks (80) as strikeouts. Those marks are roughly in line with his .327/.421/.539 career line, as Yoshida’s primary appeal is his offense with both his defensive range and arm considered below average.
One evaluator described him by text as a player with a “really good eye [and] VERY advanced approach” with both power and the ability to use all fields.
Another suggested that he could profile as a top-third of the order hitter in Boston — a player who gets on base with excellent table-setting frequency while also possessing, despite a diminutive 5-foot-8 stature, all-fields power (with a projection of potentially 20 or more homers) that may play extremely well at Fenway. He receives strong marks for his ability to handle all pitch types and a full range of velocities.
Other evaluators were slightly more circumspect about Yoshida’s power, but all agree that he is an excellent hitter who will provide average and on-base ability.
The acquisition of Yoshida represents an effort by the Sox to address a lineup that often proved undisciplined to a fault. The team’s 7.8 percent walk rate ranked in the bottom half of the league, and the team’s 33.6 percent chase rate was 11th highest.
There’s a strong chance that Yoshida will be slotted as the Red Sox’ leadoff hitter given his strong on-base abilities — a potentially significant upgrade for a Red Sox team that posted a .295 OBP (fourth worst in MLB) from the leadoff spot.
The $90 million deal for Yoshida — which features neither opt-outs nor team options — is the largest ever for a position player coming to MLB from Japan, surpassing the five-year, $85 million benchmark set last year by Cubs outfielder Seiya Suzuki. The $105.375 million combined outlay in his contract and posting fee is the largest in Red Sox history for a player from Japan, surpassing the $103.1 million (a six-year, $52 million deal and $51.1 million posting fee) that the Sox committed to starter Daisuke Matsuzaka in December 2006.
The magnitude of the Red Sox’ commitment, just hours after Yoshida had officially been posted by Orix, stunned some members of the industry. One evaluator who viewed Yoshida as a quality hitter but limited defender said his team had forecasted a commitment of roughly half the total made by the Sox.
That said, with contracts routinely surpassing expectations in an offseason market fueled by a new Collective Bargaining Agreement and record revenues, the Sox deemed Yoshida as worthy of the significant outlay.
The addition of Yoshida represents the fourth agreement on a major league deal by the Red Sox in the last two weeks. The team added lefthanded reliever Joely Rodríguez just before Thanksgiving, agreed to a two-year deal with righthanded reliever Chris Martin last week, then agreed to a two-year, $32 million deal with righthander Kenley Jansen on Wednesday morning.
Even as the team continued to pursue a deal with shortstop Xander Bogaerts — a negotiation that assumed optimistic overtones on Wednesday after operating under an ominous cloud through the first two days of the Winter Meetings — the team continued its efforts to build back with the acquisition of Yoshida.
Still, the team’s work isn’t done. While trying to push a deal with Bogaerts across the finish line, the Sox also remain in the market for a starting pitcher. That said, the Sox roster has taken on more clarity during the three-day Winter Meetings in San Diego than it had beforehand.