Just when you thought that the Baseball Winter Meetings would be uneventful for Tampa Bay…well, save for the ramblings of their attention-starved owner, news broke Friday that the Rays are finalizing a contract with Japanese slugging 1B/OF Yoshitomo Tsutsugo. He is expected to receive a two-year, $12-Million contract. The Rays will also be on the hook for the $2.4-Million posting fee to the Yokohama DeNA BayStars, meaning this deal will cost the team about $14.4-Million.
Tsutsugo, 28, has been one of Japan’s most preeminent sluggers for the past four seasons, slashing a combined .293 BA/.402 OBP/.574 SLG/.976 OPS with 139 home runs, 116 doubles, five triples, a 15.1% walk rate, and a 20.4% strikeout rate. He was most productive in 2016 when he crushed a career-high 44 homers and hit .322 BA/.430 OBP/.680 SLG/1.110 OPS. He, however, is coming off his weakest of the past four, in which he saw his strikeout rate climb to 25.3%. Even so, Tsutsugo slashed a respectable .272 BA/.388 OBP/.511 SLG/.899 OPS line with 29 long balls. Since 2014, he has averaged 31 homers per season.
Tsutsugo has played some third base in his career, although he has spent most of his time in left field or at first base. He will likely see time in the outfield, as well as hitting in the DH role
Will Hoefer (Sports Info Solutions) wrote in September that, in spite of his defensive limitations, Tsutsugo has a plus arm and the makeup to be a franchise slugger:
Tsutsugo has long been viewed as a player who could immediately contribute to any MLB team. One look at his swing and you can see why. He exhibits the bat control and hand quickness of a plus hitter with the bat speed and lower half mechanics to generate plus power. He’s arguably the most polished hitter of any domestic hitter in the NPB, as there’s no wasted movement in his load and his wrists are loose and quick.
There’s defensive issues that will cap his value. Tsutsugoh is a well below-average runner who shows poor reactions both in the infield and the outfield, though with his plus arm he could be hidden in right field with strong positioning. Yokohama has used him as a third baseman with some frequency this year, but he lacks the foot speed and reflexes necessary to field that position with any long term success.
With that said, Tsutsugo should be considered by teams as a DH/1B type if he ends up on the posting market. The White Sox, who not only have a massive hole at DH but will have to make a decision on whether or not they can afford to retain pending free agent first baseman José Abreu, make a lot of sense as a fit for Yokohama’s franchise slugger.— Will Hoefer
Tsutsugo became a fan favorite for the Yokohama DeNA BayStars, and received his own song from the crowd, who chanted “Go Tsutsu Go” whenever he stepped into the batter’s box.
Here’s to many home runs off the batter’s eye, like the one in the embedded video below.