At last check, Japanese free agent outfielder/leadoff-man-type Shogo Akiyama was departing the Japanese national team because of a broken foot (which might be only a broken fourth toe).
What that means for a speed guy in his early-30s coming over from the NPB remains to be seen, because he was otherwise a pretty obvious perfect fit for the Cubs, who reportedly scouted him this year.
In the meantime, Akiyama did come in for a projected salary on MLBTR’s free agents rankings list (Michael’s discussion is here): an extremely modest two years and $6 million. Given the risks associated with the transition to the states, his age, and now his foot injury, that sounds possible. It’s a price tag where you could absorb a total nothing contribution, but a nice play if he winds up being a usable leadoff hitter or even a quality fourth outfielder. That said, Akiyama reportedly has a much more lucrative offer to stay in Japan, so I tend to think he’ll either do better than 2/$6M, or he’ll just stay in NPB.
Jon Morosi just wrote up possible international imports to MLB this year, and Akiyama came in for high praise – but also plenty of caution that might explain the low price tag (and put a damper on the fit with the Cubs):
Frank Herrmann, the former Indians and Phillies right-hander, faced Akiyama frequently while pitching for the Golden Eagles over the past three seasons. Herrmann told MLB.com in a recent interview that he projects Akiyama as a No. 6 or 7 hitter in a Major League lineup. While Akiyama has played center field in Japan, Herrmann envisions him as a left fielder in MLB due to some regression in his defense over the past several seasons.
“He’s a good contact hitter, he has speed and he plays every day,” Herrmann said. “Actually, he plays every inning. He has a record of playing every inning, of every game, for the last five years in a row. That speaks to his work ethic … he’s always very interested in getting better.
“I think there’s a way to attack him with velocity, up and in on his hands, but I would’ve said the same thing about Ohtani a few years ago, and he’s plugged up that hole in his swing. Akiyama can make a similar adjustment because he’s so coachable and hardworking. He can handle depth breaking balls very well but struggles a bit more with sharp, short breakers.”
Herrmann’s take wasn’t the only featured in the article, though, and Mike Bolsinger had much higher praise:
Mike Bolsinger, the former Dodgers and current Chiba Lotte Marines right-hander, thought of a comparison for Akiyama while watching the World Series.
“He reminds me of Adam Eaton, with his approach,” Bolsinger said of the Nationals right fielder. “He can hit the ball the other way really well. As a pitcher, it’s frustrating to face him. You’re always asking, ‘How did he hit that ball? In the States, that would be a strikeout.’ I’ve seen him hit it off the ground before.”
Bolsinger said he’s “100 percent” sure Akiyama will be an everyday player in the Majors. In the end, Akiyama could have a similar profile to that of Nori Aoki, who arrived to the Majors from NPB for his age-30 season and was a valuable contributor and highly regarded teammate over six years in MLB.
Cubs fans remember Aoki well as being a huge pain in the butt with the Brewers, and if you could get out of Akiyama for two years what the Brewers got out of Aoki (solid defense and baserunning, no strikeouts, some walks, and a slash line around .288/.355/.415 (108ish wRC+), you’d totally take it.
Also, turns out that Akiyama is a good guy, too:
Seibu Lions OF Shogo Akiyama received the Golden Spirit Award for his contributions to society. Since 2015 Shogo has been giving single parent families from the greater Kanto area tickets to games, takes pictures and signs autographs for them. https://t.co/h2PbjEvWw7 #npb
— NPB on reddit (@NPB_Reddit) November 5, 2019