Is this an Obsessive Shogo Watch? I feel like that’s fair to say at this point, not because he is necessarily a HUGELY impactful piece (though he could wind up a very solid addition), but because we know the Cubs are in and I am personally obsessing about every little tidbit I find.
I’m sure part of it is the unknown associated with a signing coming over from Japan. Projecting a stateside free agent is hard enough, but when it’s an NPB star, with a very different style than a typical MLB star … and he’s turning 32 … with a broken toe … big questions on the speed and the defense going forward … recent changes in power and contact … there’s just a whole lot of unknown about Akiyama, so I kinda want to read and discuss everything I can find.
To that end, here’s the latest (with bonus info on slugger Yoshitomo Tsutsugo, in whom the Cubs might also have interest, but who seems a less clear fit):
Slugger Yoshitomo Tsutsugo and outfielder Shogo Akiyama, now officially available, are enticing major-league teams from across the Pacific. How good can they be, and where might they sign? From @enosarris: https://t.co/G4NpvpQT26
— The Athletic MLB (@TheAthleticMLB) November 21, 2019
The evaluation there is a bit of a mixed bag. On the one hand, the Davenport translated projection is actually pretty awesome for Shogo’s bat. The system takes his 2019 NPB line and translates it to .298/.368/.411 in MLB, and when using that line to project for actual usage, he comes to a .306/.373/.433 line with a strikeout rate under 13% … which, uh … that’s like a stud leadoff hitter.
If there was any confidence around the league that Akiyama would actually do that, he’d be lining up offers well in excess of $15 million annually, especially if he could handle center field. So I tend to think that projection must be incredibly rosy. Beyond that, Akiyama winds up with a trio of player comps – Alex Gordon and Nick Markakis at the lower end, Adam Eaton at the higher end – based on a perception of declining speed and defense, that might make him a corner outfielder instead of a center fielder.
If that’s the case, and if the slash line isn’t actually going to feature an elite OBP, then you’re talking about a role playing free agent of the type that can absolutely be useful, but also doesn’t get PAAAAID in free agency these days.
Like I’ve said before, because of the inherent difficulty in outsiders like us being able to accurately project NBP player performance in MLB (heck, MLB teams have a hard enough time with it!) what he receives on his eventual contract is almost your best signal of his projected performance. It is reflective of the market’s distillation of all available info and projections, so it’s probably the best data point – as backwards as that sounds.
We learned recently that Akiyama is reportedly looking to get three years and about $15 million, which would be suggestive of a guy with solid (not spectacular) leadoff hitter/center field defender upside, but with the risk of becoming a very expensive bench guy. At $5 million per year, you’d be fine with Akiyama winding up a very good 4th outfielder, but you’d be hoping he could start 80% of the time, and fan expectations should be calibrated accordingly.
The Athletic writers do suggest Akiyama might approach that $5 million per year, but only for two years. If Akiyama winds up signing for, say, two years and $8 million, then I think you would have to steel yourself all the more against presuming that he’s immediately going to be THE new leadoff hitter and THE starting center fielder.
All that said, if the Cubs are going budget conscious this offseason but want to add a contact-heavy bat with OBP skills to the mix (either as a starter or a 4th outfielder with upside), I still don’t think there’s any reason for them not to be among the most aggressive teams on Shogo.
There’s much more in The Athletic piece on Akiyama, as well as the Cubs as a fit.
Oh, also, can I admit something? This:
Time to admit something terrible and stupid but real:
Approximately 3% of the reason I want the Cubs to sign Shogo Akiyama (no more than 3%, I swear!) is because I really like the sound of the name 'Shogo.' I would like to be able to shout SHOOOOGOOOOOOOO when he reaches base.
— Bleacher Nation (@BleacherNation) November 21, 2019