The Red Sox may have found their leadoff hitter.
The club officially introduced Masataka Yoshida to the Red Sox faithful Thursday afternoon after signing the Japanese left fielder to a five-year, $90 million contract.
Yoshida, 29, compiled a slash line of .335/.447/.561 in 2022 with 21 homers and nearly twice as many walks (80) as strikeouts (41) for the Orix Buffaloes of Nippon Professional Baseball.
For his career, Yoshida’s line is .327/.421/.539. He is widely known as an elite bat-to-ball hitter with a stellar eye at the dish.
“I was very surprised by this deal,” said Yoshida through his interpreter during an introductory press conference that included Red Sox president and CEO Sam Kennedy, chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom, and Yoshida’s agent, Scott Boras. “I want to say thank you to Scott Boras and the Boras Corporation, and thank you to the organization for accepting me. Obviously, I’m going to play hard next season.”
In a corresponding move to free up a 40-man roster spot, infielder Jeter Downs was designated for assignment. Downs was part of the package the Red Sox received from the Los Angeles Dodgers in the Mookie Betts trade.
The Red Sox haven’t received much production out of their leadoff hitters since the Betts trade after the 2019 season, compiling a .243 average over the last three seasons. Last season, the leadoff hitters hit .235.
Although Yoshida said he’s not comfortable with that spot in the order, it seems as though that would be the right fit for him with the Red Sox.
“He certainly has a skill set to do it,” Bloom said regarding Yoshida batting leadoff. “We want to see, obviously, how the club comes together in full before talking through that and ultimately [manager] Alex [Cora] figuring out how he wants to make this lineup out but the skill set is there.
“I feel confident he’s actually got a skill set that can play in different parts of the order but there’s no question we’ve talked about strikes zone judgment, we’ve talked about contact. Those are obviously huge, huge anywhere but they’re huge at the top of the order.”
The Red Sox, in addition to Boras, believe because of Yoshida’s level swing path matched with his skill set, the transition from NPB to the majors won’t be that much of an adjustment. Boras added that players who do make the switch from Japan to the states are, typically, players who have more of a power profile or are athletic.
The agent pointed out that Yoshida’s case is different.
“In Masataka’s case, his base on ball to strikeout rate in the NPB was phenomenal,” Boras said. “It’s just something that showed his contact rates, his skill, and plus his knowledge of the strike zone. And we watched him very clearly face the relievers. In Japan, some relievers were throwing 95-96 miles per hour.
“And there are only a few arms there that can do it. He handled those pitchers with great acumen. He showed power and had the same level of strike zone control that he did against the other pitchers. So those were things that were very impressive about him.”
The deal between the Red Sox and Yoshida came together rather quickly. Boras noted that three teams, including the Sox, were in on his client. But the Red Sox proved to be the most aggressive, coming to an agreement just hours after the NPB’s posting date.
“He comes over here a champion,” Bloom said. “Hopefully he can be a champion here, too. All those things added up to something that we felt was a really, really strong basis to think he can have success.”
For Yoshida, who will wear No. 7, the decision to join the Red Sox was a no-brainer. He mentioned David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez as two of his idols. After signing, Yoshida and countryman/former Red Sox pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka exchanged Twitter messages. Matsuzaka’s first piece of advice?
“Bring a jacket,” Yoshida said Matsuzaka told him. “Boston is really cold.”
In closing, Yoshida said he was thankful to be a part of the Red Sox family and finished by saying, “I’ll do my best.”
Julian McWilliams can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @byJulianMack.