The latest on free agent outfielder Shogo Akiyama is a really interesting bit of info: his reported asking price.
Sources tell Bruce Levine that Akiyama, 32 in April, is looking to get around a three-year, $15 million deal in his transition to MLB. Considering earlier reports that he had an offer to stay in Japan that was a bit longer and a bit more lucrative, that ask makes sense.
In a world where the Cubs weren’t so jealously guarding their dollars, a $5M AAV commitment, for the potential upside of a solid defense center fielder who can also solve your leadoff problem, would be nothing.
… but that is not the apparent world in which we live right now. So, then, the question is: how much do you buy Shogo as a definite starter for the Cubs? At $5 million per year over three years, that’s a lot higher than you’d ever be comfortable paying for a fourth outfielder, so you have to have some level of confidence that, for at least a year or two, he’s gonna take 60+% of the starts in center field while posting a .350ish OBP out of the leadoff spot.
In that way, the price tag kind wind up wagging the dog a little bit in these situations. If Akiyama actually gets a three-year, $15 million deal, it means the signing team does believe he has a better than 50/50 shot of being that guy. If, however, he doesn’t get that level of deal, it means the top bidder was still seriously concerned he was a fourth outfielder.
Levine says that four or five MLB teams are in on Shogo right now, which sounds about right if he’s right there on the border – from a scouting perspective – of possible starter or possible bench guy. Were he definitely one or the other, you might see a broader base of interest. The winning team is likely to be the one that has the highest ceiling on Akiyama’s transition to MLB.
As we’ve seen with players coming over from the NPB, you not only have the translation to a different style of game to consider, but also the comfort of a player who has otherwise lived entirely in another country – not only at a personal level, but a professional level, too. The support system for the transition needs to be very strong for success, and some players simply prefer to stick closer to the West Coast for the geographic proximity to Japan, as well as the sometimes more robust communities you see there. Of note, California has by far the largest Japanese-American population (and then Hawaii), followed by an extremely distant group of also-rans in Washington, New York, and Illinois.
This is going to be an interesting pursuit to follow, and I’d imagine the Cubs would love to be able to lock a deal down sooner rather than later, knowing they’ve got a potential center fielder and leadoff man in place, which would narrow the scope of their trade talks on other areas of the roster.