NEWS Rowe: Red Sox bet big on Masataka Yoshida; Cubs sign Jameson Taillon and more

The Athletic

The Red Sox did make a choice, and their first big offseason payout was to Masataka Yoshida, an outfielder who has thus far spent his career with the NPB in Japan, signing him to a five-year deal. , $90 million contract — they could have spent that money on Willson Contreras, who could have filled a bigger need. Yoshida doesn’t even make my top 50 free agents, though he qualifies because he’s an often-injured outfielder whose power output in Japan seems unlikely to carry over to MLB.

Yoshida’s most notable traits are his flashy walks and strikeout numbers — he rarely throws a punch, often chokes on barrels to hit the bat as hard as he can, and he’s had more walks than His strikeout numbers, 64 surprise walks and 42 strikeouts in 2022. He hit .335/.447/.561 last season for the Orix Buffaloes and .339/.429/.563 the year before, with 21 home run years each.

Of course, we’ve seen plenty of hitters come to the majors from the NPB only to lose their home run power somewhere in the Pacific. San Suzuki also hit 38 home runs for Hiroshima in 2021 and 14 for the Cubs last year. Kosuke Fukudome hit 31 and 34 in his two best seasons with Chunichi, then hit 37 home runs in MLB…but it took him five seasons to do that. Yoshi Tsutsugo hit 44 homers and 38 homers in his best two years in the NPB before hitting 18 in 182 major league games. NPB parks are smaller and pitching is very different, not only in stuff but in approach.

The diminutive Yoshida (5-foot-8, 176 pounds) has an extremely short, powerful swing that favors contact over impact, almost as if he’s playing pepper with an infielder. Not only does this approach work against power, or even extra base power, but it also leaves hitters vulnerable to pitchers who can get to the inside quickly. Ichiro is known for his inside-out swing and ability to make good contact almost anywhere he pitches, but we’ve had a generation of hitters try to emulate him, and no one has been able to. He’s not a runner and may be limited to left field. That makes Boston’s investment entirely dependent on Yoshida’s ability to get on base, which could also take a hit because pitchers won’t pitch around a guy who lacks the impact to hurt them with extra bases. Yoshida might not take too many shots here, which has some value, but he also might take more shots here than there. That leaves the Red Sox with a guy who hits the plate with decent enough speed, maybe in the .350-360 range, without power, speed or much defensive value. He might be a regular for some teams, but I think for a contender he might be better suited as an extra outfielder — and if I’m right, it’s not a good deal for Boston. Given the huge void they have behind the plate right now, and the fact that Wilson Contreras just signed for less than Boston spent on Yoshida (before the $15.4 million release fee), I’m just baffled.

• The Red Sox also agreed to sign right-hander Kenley Jansen to a two-year, $32 million deal…not bad. He’s not a Capital C Closer type anymore, that’s probably more money per year than he deserves, but it’s hardly going to bring the payroll down, and if they’re more comfortable with the veteran, it’s better to have him on a two-year deal than more long contract. My guess is that Jensen has brought them about two wins in about 110 innings over the past two years, some time off with minor injuries. I’m assuming Alex Cora will leave Jensen with the final three outs and use one of their better relief options to deal with high leverage points before then.

• The Cubs’ current rotation is Marcus Stroman and a bunch of fourth/fifth starters, so if they want to compete in 2023, they’ll need to add one and maybe two more than Justin Stie Al/Adrian is the better starting pitcher for the Sampson group. On Wednesday, they signed one of those players in Jameson Taillon, signing the former Yankee and Buccaneers to a four-year, $68 million deal that would make him More like a third/fourth starter, and if he continues to hold the lead, the team has some headroom to see his command improve. He’s a four-and-a-half pitcher returning from his second Tommy John surgery, throwing more at-bats than ever before and also becoming a roller, though he can still hit. Home runs, because his command in the zone wasn’t great. He’s had a lot of injuries, including two surgeries and a testicular cancer, but he’s been healthy for most of the past two years and turns 31 this year. The Cubs gave him almost exactly the deal I thought he deserved, which I don’t take for granted, but I bet they saw what I saw — a solid mid-roller who can still get better .

• The Cubs also signed Cody Bellinger to a one-year, $17 million contract. At this point, I really don’t know what to think of Bellinger. His pitch selection is terrible, his swing is the same as always, but it looks worse when he swings in the wrong pitch, and he gives the Cubs a defensive first baseman who can also Hit the outfield. I hope they can heal him.

• The Mets continued to add to their rotation by signing left-hander Jose Quintana, who bounced back sharply in 2022 after five years on the bench, to a two-year deal. Quintana used his changeup more often last year, which in turn made his four-seamer more effective while still smelling on his curveball and throwing just about everything to hit the ball. I do think his home run rate will regress (up) to average, but he could give the Mets some league-average innings, or close to it, at the fourth spot, allowing them to take Tyler Megill out of the rotation A mid-shifter can play a swing role or be an extra if Justin Verlander or Max Scherzer need an extra day.

(File photo: Kiyoshi Ota/Getty Images)

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