On the final day of the Winter Meetings, the Red Sox made a significant free agent splash.
Boston has agreed to terms on a five-year, $90 million contract with Japanese outfielder Masataka Yoshida, according to ESPN’s Jeff Passan and The New York Post’s Jon Heyman. Alex Speier of The Boston Globe relays that the deal does not contain any opt-out clauses or team options.
Yoshida, 29, was considered to be the top position player free agent from Japan this winter and he will be getting paid as such. His $90 million pact is the largest ever for a player making the jump from Nippon Professional Baseball to the major-leagues, as it beats out the five-year, $85 million deal fellow outfielder Seiya Suzuki received from the Cubs earlier this year.
The Orix Buffaloes had just posted Yoshida on Wednesday morning, so it is apparent the Red Sox wasted no time in pursuing the recently-signed Boras Corp. client. Boston will now pay Yoshida’s NPB team a $15.375 million posting fee, taking the total value of the investment up to $105.375 million. That will surpass the $103.1 million ($52 million contract and $51.1 million posting fee) the Sox committed to starting pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka in December 2006, as noted by Speier.
A native of Fukui, Yoshida has spent the last seven seasons playing for Orix after first breaking in at Japan’s top level in 2016. For his professional career, the left-handed hitter owns a lifetime .327/.421/.539 slash line with 133 home runs in 762 games. This past season, he batted a stout .335/.447/.561 to go along with 28 doubles, one triple, 21 homers, 88 RBIs, 56 runs scored, four stolen bases, 80 walks, and 41 strikeouts over 119 games (508 plate appearances) for the Buffaloes.
Dating back to the start of the 2020 season, Yoshida has posted a 14.5 percent walk rate (213 in 1,467 plate appearances and just a 6.6 strikeout rate (97 in 1,467 plate appearances). His plate discipline and ability to get on base at a high clip are just a few attributes that make him stick out.
“He’s someone that we really like and we’ve spent a lot of time on,” chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom told reporters (including MassLive.com’s Chris Cotillo) shortly before news of the agreement broke on Wednesday. “Really, really good hitter, quality at-bat and a great talent.”
While the Red Sox as a team had the sixth-highest on-base percentage in baseball this year (.321), they also ranked 18th in walk rate (7.9 percent) and 20th in chase rate (33.6 percent), per FanGraphs. Yoshida could help alleviate some of these issues, and he could do so out of the leadoff spot or in the middle of the lineup on account of his power potential.
“First and foremost, when you’re looking at a player like him, the quality of the at-bat stands out and that can come from either side of the plate,” said Bloom. “We’re going to need to do some things this offseason to lengthen our lineup and improve the quality of at-bats in our lineup.”
Defensively, Yoshida projects as a left fielder at the big-league level. The 5-foot-8, 176-pounder played that position primarily in Japan, though both his range and arm strength are considered to be below average. That being said, he is likely to start alongside Enrique Hernandez and Alex Verdugo in the Red Sox outfield next season. Rob Refsnyder and Jarren Duran also figure to be in the mix for playing time.
Yoshida, who does not turn 30 until July, becomes the first position player free agent the Red Sox have agreed to sign this winter. Boston has already signed left-hander Joely Rodriguez to a one-year deal and agreed to two-year contracts with right-handed relievers Chris Martin and Kenley Jansen.
The Red Sox had been pursuing a reunion with Xander Bogaerts, but the All-Star shortstop has since agreed to an 11-year mega-deal with the Padres, according to multiple reports.
(Picture of Masataka Yoshida: Steph Chambers/Getty Images)