Japanese outfielder Masataka Yoshida was posted Wednesday by the Orix Buffaloes in the Nippon Professional Baseball League. Just hours later, the Red Sox swooped in and signed the 29-year old to a five-year, $90 million deal, adding an elite bat-to-ball hitter to the lineup.
Yoshida projects as a potential top-of-the-order hitter after leading NPB in OPS in each of the last two seasons. In addition to the contract, the Sox will also pay a $15.375 million posting fee to Orix because Yoshida remained under team control.
Here are five things to know about Yoshida:
He was a star in the NPB
The Red Sox moved quickly in locking up Yoshida as it was expected he would garner interest from all 30 clubs as a plug-and-play option in the outfield. Yoshida was a career .327/.421/.539 hitter in NPB.
In 2022, he hit .336 with a league-leading 1.007 OPS and 21 home runs.
Scouts and evaluators say Yoshida’s best trait is his bat-to-ball skill after he recorded 80 walks and 41 strikeouts in 508 plate appearances in 2022. Yoshida has walked more than he has struck out in four straight seasons and leaves NPB as a four-time All-Star and a two-time batting champion (2020, 2021).
Yoshida has drawn comparisons to Minnesota’s Luis Arraez, free agent outfielder Brandon Nimmo, and former Red Sox outfielder Andrew Benintendi.
“The Red Sox land a guy who was a really good hitter in Japan,” said MLB Network’s Steve Phillips. “He puts the ball in play, no swing and miss, a lot of contact, so it makes sense.”
There are questions about his power translating
Yoshida is 5-foot-8, 176 pounds and hit 21 home runs in each of the last two seasons after launching a career-high 29 homers in 2019.
But will that power translate overseas in MLB?
“The undersized Yoshida has an extremely short, punchy swing that favors contact over impact, almost like he’s playing pepper with the infielders,” wrote the Athletic’s Keith Law. “Not only does that approach not lend itself to power, even extra-base power, but it also can leave hitters vulnerable to pitchers who can come inside with velocity.”
Law noted the many hitters who have arrived from NPB and lost their power against MLB pitching. Seiya Suzuki from the Cubs hit 38 homers in Japan and 14 last year in his first season in MLB. Kosuke Fukudome had 31 and 34 homers during his two best seasons in NPB, and totaled 37 home runs in five MLB seasons. And Pittsburgh’s Yoshi Tsutsugo had 44 long balls in his top season in Japan, but has 18 homers in 182 career MLB games.
“That leaves Boston’s investment depending entirely on Yoshida’s ability to get on base, and that’s likely to take a hit as well, as pitchers aren’t going to pitch around a guy who lacks the impact to hurt them with extra bases,” said Law.
He was a winner in Japan
Yoshida was a major catalyst for Orix as they won the Pacific League and then captured the Japan Series title with a 5-4 win in Game 7 over the Tokyo Yakult Swallows.
It was the franchise’s first Japan Series title since Ichiro Suzuki led Orix to the championship in 1996.
Yoshida hit a walk-off two-run homer in Game 5 of the Series.
He was also part of Japan’s gold-medal winning team in the Tokyo Olympics. Yoshida recorded a clutch RBI single in the eighth inning of Japan’s 2-0 win over USA for the gold medal.
Yoshida idolizes Bryce Harper
When Yoshida first asked to be posted, reports said his preference was to sign with the Phillies because Bryce Harper is his idol. Yoshida wore number “34″ because of Harper and his instagram username is @bh_masataka34, in reference of Harper.
After former MLB player Adam Jones recorded his 2,000th career hit for Orix, Harper sent Masataka a signed jersey and also added a custom-made jersey for his dog, named Harper.
Yoshida will get to play against Harper and the Phillies in 2023 when the Red Sox visit Philadelphia for a three-game series May 5-7.
His contract is the largest ever for a Japanese position player
Yoshida’s five-year, $90 million deal is the largest for a Japanese position player, surpassing Seiya Suzuki’s five-year, $85 million contract with the Cubs last winter. With the posting fee included, Yoshida’s $105.375 million investment is the largest committed by the Red Sox to a Japanese player, besting the $103.1 million for Daisuke Matsuzaka in 2006.
Yoshida joins a long list of Japanese players moving from NPB to MLB, including current players Shohei Ohtani, Yu Darvish, Kenta Maeda, and Yusei Kikuchi.
Yoshida’s teammate in the Tokyo Olympics, pitcher Kodai Senga, is expected to sign with an MLB team this offseason.
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- Why Xander Bogaerts chose to sign with the Padres over the Red Sox
- At the San Diego airport, a stunned Chaim Bloom tried to process the reality of the Red Sox without Xander Bogaerts
- Red Sox agree to deal with Japanese outfielder Masataka Yoshida
- What does the Red Sox’ signing of Kenley Jansen mean for Tanner Houck?
- Under Chaim Bloom, the Red Sox have traded their knockout signings of the past for a series of small jabs