Precise information on the pursuit of Japanese slugger Seiya Suzuki has been tough to come by this offseason, which is not particularly surprising during a lockout. Although the 27-year-old outfielder was posted by his NPB team in November, he cannot negotiate a big league deal with MLB teams while the lockout is going on, so there’s a lot of silence.
And although we have discussed a number of reasons why Suzuki, arguably the best hitter to come over from Japan since Shohei Ohtani (and best outfielder since Hideki Matsui), makes a load of sense for the Cubs, they tend not to be mentioned in the long lists of primary suitors.
A fresh report out of Japan suggests the Cubs are among four likely finalists for Suzuki when it comes time to negotiate:
— ふくださん (@fukudasun) January 25, 2022
That is a very legit news source in Japan, and the Cubs are right there – I mean, they’re even in the (literal) picture for Seiya Suzuki!
Although Google Translate gets you only so far, it seems pretty clear that the article’s thrust is that (1) Suzuki is expected to speak to a number of teams out of the lockout, but will have a primary group of only three or four teams to focus on, because there won’t be a lot of time; (2) it is currently expected that the four teams are the Cubs, Mariners, Padres, and Giants; and (3) the Red Sox and Yankees are mentioned but seem to be dismissed by the reporter(despite other Stateside rumors).
The article includes a discussion of each of the four presumed finalists and why the would be a fit, the translation of which for the Cubs was enjoyable: “Cubs In the middle of last season, the main hitters such as Reso, Bryant, and Baez are being released one after another and are being rebuilt. The fixed position is not fixed in both the inner and outer fields, and it is essential to reinforce the score source, so Suzuki is the top priority target.”
I take that to mean that, from the reporter’s perspective, the Cubs really need a middle-of-the-order bat (correct), and their outfield spots are not necessarily locked down (also correct). Top priority target, eh? Wonder if that’s being reported, or is a translation issue, or is just speculation. That is not something we’ve heard rumored from the Cubs’ side, again, even as we THINK Suzuki makes a ton of sense for the Cubs.
Working in the Cubs’ favor here is that the outfield market is one of the few areas of free agency that remains pretty robust heading into Offseason Part Two, so they may have opportunities to add a big bat outside of Suzuki. But as a prime-age, potentially-impactful power bat, who can be signed for only money and costs no draft pick compensation, it’s not hard to see why Suzuki might indeed be the Cubs’ top priority. The trick might be hoping to get an early decision from Suzuki before pivoting, if necessary, to another bat that slips. It’s all just gonna happen so fast …
The Cubs, you’ll note, are the only one of the four teams that does not play on the West Coast, which is probably something of a compliment and also a hurdle. For understandable geographic and community reasons, players coming from Japan have often preferred to wind up somewhere on the West Coast. So, consider that part not working in the Cubs’ favor. Though Seiya Suzuki is his own man, so we don’t want to make too many assumptions.
(UPDATE: A separate report out of Japan indicates the Red Sox are actually the heavy favorite.)
From one of our previous write-ups on Suzuki:
I would submit that the Cubs make as much sense as any team. They can afford to take a bigger risk on a guy like Suzuki right now, because if he doesn’t immediately pop, it’s not like he alone crushes their playoff hopes. In other words, whereas teams that are trying to make an aggressive push for 2022 might not want to risk dedicating an outfield spot to a guy transitioning to the States, the Cubs would be in a position to take that high-risk, high-upside swing. They obviously have the available cash, too, including – conveniently! – the money saved at the Trade Deadline this year that could theoretically roll right over into a posting fee.
The numbers on Suzuki in Japan:
The scouting reports will start to get beefed up in the coming weeks as a Suzuki posting process begins, but here’s a couple looks from Baseball America. This one from September:
“The righthanded hitter is in the midst of another outstanding NPB season, with high extra-base hit totals and a strong walk-to-strikeout ratio. He is a five-time NPB all-star who won the Central League batting title in 2019 and boasts a career line of .308/.399/.534 in more than 1,000 games.
Scouts see Suzuki as a potential average hitter, once he adjusts to MLB velocity, with above-average game power and raw power that grades as a 70 on the 20-80 scouting scale. His swing is geared for damage with an uppercut bat path, as opposed to the middle-of-the-field or even inside-out hitting approaches favored by many Japanese hitters. Like Senga, Suzuki participated in the Tokyo Olympics and ranked as the No. 6 prospect at the event. He went 3-for-18 (.167) with one home run for gold medal-winning Japan.
Suzuki will stay in right field with good range and an above-average arm. He’s a fair runner who has slowed with age and won’t factor with stolen bases. Suzuki will be 27 next season and in the prime of his career.”
And this one from July, when he was identified as the best non-US prospect bat at the Olympics:
“Suzuki is a five-time NPB all-star and won the Central League batting title in 2019. While many Japanese hitters keep their hands inside and take short, direct paths to the ball, Suzuki takes powerful uppercuts more conducive to the modern MLB game. He has plus-plus raw power and the bat speed, hand-eye coordination and feel for the barrel to be an average hitter once he adjusts to major league velocity, although there is some hesitation whether he will. He is an above-average defender with an above-average arm in right field. Suzuki’s offensive and defensive abilities make him a potential starting outfielder in MLB. He will be free agent after the 2022 season.”
““He’s been the best player in Japan the last few years,” said a major league scout, who compared Suzuki to current Dodgers outfielder A.J. Pollock when Pollock was an All-Star with the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Suzuki won a batting title two years ago when he batted .335. He’s smacked 25 or more homers in each of the last five years. He’s stolen as many as 25 bases in a season. He’s won four Gold Gloves. And he can throw, his fastball touching 92 mph when he pitched in high school.
“He’s a five-tool guy,” the same scout said.”