While the Boston Red Sox did pull off a handful of moves before the lockout began and a transaction freeze came along with it, none of the moves added a ton of talent in one fell swoop, instead solidifying the back of the rotation with most of their activity. Of course, there was also that final transaction, sending Hunter Renfroe to the Milwaukee Brewers in exchange for Jackie Bradley Jr. and a pair of prospects. As we’ve talked about since that deal went down, Boston now has a number of paths it can take to shore up their lineup after sending off one of their more productive players from last season. But among those many options, there seems to be one who has stolen the hearts and minds of Red Sox fans and who seems to be the fan favorite to fill the new hole in the outfield.
You can consider me along with those who have Seiya Suzuki as their top outfield target as well, as he just makes sense for a number of different reasons. The outfielder has been one of the best players over in the NPB for the last half-decade or so, most recently hitting .317/.433/.639, making it his sixth straight season with an OPS of at least .900, with four of those campaigns ending with an OPS over 1.000. In Japan, Suzuki has been inundated with awards, collecting four All-Star bids, three Gold Gloves, and five times appearing on the NPB’s Best Nine, which is essentially an All-NPB team.
Although Suzuki was actually originally drafted out of high school as a pitcher, he quickly transitioned to the infield (and later to the outfield), raking all the way. Scouts are excited about the potential at the plate here, starting with the righty’s approach at the plate. In each of the last three seasons he has kept his strikeout rate and walk rate right in the same range, both sitting around 16 percent last season in the NPB. And combining with that strong approach is above-average power, as he’s hit at least 25 homers in each of the last six years. There is, of course, some adjustment that needs to be made in translating numbers from a different league, but against the competition he’s faced over his professional career thus far, he’s been remarkably at drawing walks, limiting strikeouts, and hitting the ball with authority. There’s not much more you can ask for at the plate.
And to make matters even better, the defense draws rave reviews as well, as demonstrated by his multiple Gold Glove wins in Japan. Suzuki has largely played right field in recent years, but that has more to do with his plus arm than any deficiencies in athleticism. If he did sign with the Red Sox he would likely play right field, but if a team needed him in center field there is a belief that he’d be able to handle that. Given that the Red Sox have historically liked to have what amounts to two center fielders to cover the large right field at Fenway, Suzuki’s ability to cover that ground along with his strong arm makes him a very intriguing defensive fit, before even getting to that aforementioned offensive prowess.
All that being said, we should take a step back and remember that, for the most part, all of this is almost theoretical. While the competition in Japan is as good as any non-MLB competition out there, it’s always a risk taking a player from another league and hoping the talent translates in similar ways. Particularly with positions players, there haven’t been a lot of stars who have been able to make that transition. The counter to that, however, is that most of the position players to come over in recent years have not been as highly touted as Suzuki seems to be. Generally speaking, I believe it’s important to keep that history and idea of risk in mind, but at the end of the day you have to trust your scouting. Perhaps the Red Sox have different scouting than we do, but from everything I can see it is worth taking the perceived risk.
What makes the idea extra intriguing is where Suzuki is in his career, which is not typical for someone you’re able to get in the free agent market. Aside from some rare cases like Manny Machado and Bryce Harper, it just isn’t very common to have a chance at signing this type of talent just as they start to enter their traditional prime. But here, the Red Sox (and any other team) have the chance to sign a player entering his age-27 season. And as an extra bonus, they wouldn’t have to give up a draft pick for the pleasure of doing so.
What they would have to do is pay the posting fee, but we all know the ownership can afford that, and the fee does not count against luxury tax calculations. MLB Trade Rumors predicted a five-year contract for Suzuki worth $55 million, and if my math is correct (I believe it is) the posting fee associated with that deal would come out to $10.125 million. That would essentially translate to a $65 million payout for Suzuki, which is likely right around what they’d have to pay for Kyle Schwarber, and with better defense. It’s also less than what they’d have to pay somebody like Nick Castellanos and Kris Bryant, and Suzuki should provide better defense than those two as well while also not costing a draft pick like Castellanos would.
I think the Red Sox would ultimately have to pay a bit more than that predicted among by MLB Trade Rumors, as it does seem like there is a fair amount of interest in the outfielder around the league. But even if we up that number by $10-$15 million, this feels like a move the Red Sox should really be pushing to make. The talent alone means he should be a consideration, and he also provides offense from the right side, which the Red Sox are looking for, a good defensive fit to enable Alex Verdugo to stay in left field, and relative youth that fits Boston’s desire to be good for the next half-decade. It would be silly to totally wave off the risk associated with signing a player from another league and the hope that production translates to the majors, but it would also be silly to let that fear steer you away from what could be a real game changer in 2022 and beyond.