BALTIMORE — When the Red Sox signed Masataka Yoshida to a five-year, $90 million contract during last December’s winter meetings, it left the majority of media and front-office executives in attendance befuddled.
Yoshida, who played for the Orix Buffaloes of Nippon Professional Baseball, had been made available to big-league clubs that same day, and the Red Sox immediately offered him a deal which included a posting fee just north of $15 million. Minus the Red Sox, evaluators saw that contract as an overpay for a below-average outfielder who had more of a slap-style approach. While Yoshida presented exquisite bat-to-ball skills, power, certainly, was a concern. The adjustment to the big leagues, too, was a different beast.
His performance in helping Japan to the title in the World Baseball Classic erased some of those concerns, in addition to his play prior to the All-Star break when he hit .316/.382/.492 with an .874 OPS, 19 doubles, and 10 homers. His early success fell in line with what the Red Sox envisioned, and observers began to buy in, too — even calling his contract an underpay.
Yet once the Sox came out of the break, Yoshida began to plummet. After going 3 for 5 with a double and an RBI in Saturday night’s 5-2 loss to the Orioles, he is hitting just .253/.277/.386 with a .663 OPS to go along with five homers and 14 doubles 61 games.
Fatigue. Or at least that’s what the Red Sox believe.
Japan is the size of the state of California, so travel is a lot easier on the body. The travel schedule in the majors is a lot more grueling with a lot more games. In Japan, for example, with a few exceptions, players get Mondays off. In the big leagues, Monday often mean the start of a new series.
“I don’t want to make excuses because of that,” said Yoshida through a team translator. “I chose this for myself. I did my best.”
Manager Alex Cora made it clear that endurance, to ensure Yoshida is ready for the most pivotal part of the season, will be a point of emphasis for the Sox left fielder this offseason. Members of the training staff will visit with Yoshida in Japan to monitor some of his workouts.
Nevertheless, his .285 batting average entering Saturday night’s game against the Orioles is respectable. But the Sox will need more from him next season.
“I’m excited to play for the team,” he said. “As a team, this season we were at the bottom. I think I have something that I can help us with in the game and the season, too. So, I’d like to build up baseball-wise, and physical-wise, too.”
Crawford solid, but offense isn’t
The Red Sox lost to the Orioles, 5-2, Saturday evening, spoiling what arguably was Kutter Crawford’s finest outing of the season. Crawford finished with a 4.04 ERA after going six scoreless innings, yielding just one hit while striking out seven.
Manager Alex Cora said, similar to Nick Pivetta Friday night, that he wanted the season to end on a high note for Crawford, who has only once recorded more than 18 outs in a game — he got 19 as a reliever this past April 17. Crawford will build up as a starter this winter with the hope that he can remain in the rotation.
The Orioles broke through a scoreless game in the seventh inning, tagging Josh Winckowski for two runs. The Sox made it 2-1 in the top of the eighth, but Mauricio Llovera yielded three runs in the bottom half, putting the game out of reach.
The Sox (77-84) will play the final game of their season Sunday. With a win, the club will match its record from 2022.
Jansen shut down
Kenley Jansen’s season is over. The Red Sox closer, who hit the COVID-19 injured list during the recent series against the Yankees at Fenway, was reinstated last week. Cora said he would only pitch in save situations, but since the closer hadn’t pitched in more than two weeks, Cora decided that the wisest decision would be to stay away from Jansen for the final weekend.
“You got to be realistic,” Cora said. “If he goes out there and gets hurt, that’s on me.”
Jansen finished the season with a 3.63 ERA in 44⅔ innings, registering 29 saves and 52 strikeouts.
“He was excellent,” said Cora, while noting Jansen’s blown saves against the Cardinals and Giants. “But overall he had a great season.”