Whenever the lockout ends, Japanese outfielder Seiya Suzuki’s posting process will resume, which is to say he’ll be able to resume negotiating with interested teams. It’s much more of a true “free agency” process than it used to be back in the day, though it does come with a 30-day limited window to negotiate. In Suzuki’s case, Offseason Part Two is likely to be no longer than seven days, and he’s got WAY more than that left in his negotiating window, so, again, his situation is just going to look like straight up free agency when the lockout ends.
We’ve talked at length about how we can see Suzuki as a fit for the Cubs – financially, timeline, and roster – and there have even been reports out of Japan that have the Cubs as among the possible finalists. Thus, when I saw that Dan Szymborski had generated ZiPS projections for Suzuki, I was very interested to see how they were looking.
On the whole, the projections are pretty solid for Suzuki, whom ZiPS sees as a bat in the 120 to 125 OPS+ range for his next five years (ages 27 through 31). His defensive value is neutral at best, so the WAR projection goes from 2.6 in 2022 down to 2.5, 2.2, 2.1, and 1.6 over the following years. If Suzuki achieved those projections, you’d be talking about a guy who was an above-average regular – solid in a corner outfield spot, and you’re happy to have him in your lineup – but short of being an impact/All-Star type.
What’s a guy like that generally get on the free agent market? Well, ZiPS has it at five years and $83 million in value – $14 million of which would be the posting fee – which is quite a bit higher than the various rumors and expectations (they have seemed to be more in the $50 to $60 million range of a total outlay, perhaps over only a four-year deal). It’s possible outside speculation has simply underestimated the kind of deal Suzuki will get, or it’s possible the crowded outfield market (not to mention the lockout-created free agent crunch) will artificially drive down Suzuki’s price tag. Of course, if that latter one happens, then there might be real value to be had in signing Suzuki rather than guys like Nick Castellanos or Michael Conforto or Kyle Schwarber.
A last thought: If you were curious about the last time a very successful outfielder from Japan came to the States, and what his ZiPS projections looked like in advance of that arrival, look no further than Shogo Akiyama a couple years ago with the Reds. The comp here is less about the player – very different styles of player, and Akiyama arrived almost five years older than Suzuki – and more about the system of using NPB stats to generate MLB projections. That’s why it’s interesting to check, not just because the two come from the same country.
For Akiyama, ZiPS was projecting a slightly-below-league-average bat for his three contract years, with a WAR declining from 1.9 in 2020 to 1.0 in 2022. The pandemic mucked up 2020, obviously, but even prorating, Akiyama fell way short of his offensive and WAR projections (83 wRC+, 0.4 WAR). And then last year, he as more or less unplayable for the Reds. So, that is to say, ZiPS was not particularly optimistic, but even that was too rosy for how things actually turned out (which, hey, does happen sometimes even with “correct” projections, since they’re just looking at the 50th percentile outcome).