Today, the Chicago Cubs landed one of the top free agents on the market, Japanese outfielder Seiya Suzuki, who was available to MLB teams via the NPB posting process. It was a very, very exciting day.
To that end, there is a ton of stuff I wanted to touch on to round up the big news and the signing, to dig more into the player, and to enjoy some highlights …
• First, the contract particulars, the details of which kinda evolved as they were being reported. At the end, multiple reports seemed to confirm that the agreed-upon contract is five years and $85 million, and then the posting fee – close to $15 million – is on top of that. So in terms of total outlay, this is like a five-year, $100 million deal. The AAV for luxury tax purposes, though, is just $17 million.
• It’s a really substantial commitment to any player, let alone one who has yet to play in Major League Baseball. It says a lot about how much the Cubs believe in Suzuki, how much they want to win during this five-year period, and also probably how much they hope this can help lead to some inroads in the Japanese market (let’s be honest).
• Suzuki also gets a full no-trade clause from the Cubs, which has been a rare give for them, but I think it’s pretty appropriate in this situation. Not only are you trying to get the deal done, but you’re also trying to really establish a good relationship with a guy who is coming over to the States for the first time. He’s going to be making a huge life adjustment. You want his comfort to be a priority.
• Putting the signing in historical context, the deal is the first really substantial contract for a Japanese position player since … that’s right, Kosuke Fukudome with the Cubs 15 years ago. (He’s still playing in Japan, by the way!) For all position players who’ve come over from Japan, this is the biggest one (and second only to Masahiro Tanaka’s deal, overall):
Seiya Suzuki, who nets largest contract ever for Japanese position player, is a short- & long-term fit for #Cubs.
Ross: “We’re going to try to get as much talent in this organization as we possibly can because that’s what winning organizations have.” https://t.co/YVHUjisnCM
— Meghan Montemurro (@M_Montemurro) March 16, 2022
• Hey, so for a few weeks, do we get to say that Suzuki is, like, the Cubs first or second best prospect? Did the Cubs’ farm system ranking just get a huge boost?
• To that end, a deep scouting dive on Suzuki from before he was posted:
— Prospects Live (@ProspectsLive) March 16, 2022
• I especially appreciate that the report digs into his defense, which we hear less about, since the bat is obviously the big thing:
The Carp would be sending over one of the more exciting Japanese players since Shohei Ohtani. Although Ohtani was and is a different animal, the hype around Seiya Suzuki is there for a reason.
A very athletic 5’11” 216 lb build, Suzuki has become a meme for his massive transformation from being a regular teenager to a bodybuilder. Suzuki moves better than he looks however, while reaping benefits of his strength.
Seiya Suzuki showing off the arm! Another assist for Suzuki on the year as he guns down the runner at home! pic.twitter.com/uTmJM7EdZz
— Tom Mussa v2 (@tom_mussa_v2) August 14, 2021
A four-time gold glove winner, he’s got a 70 arm, regularly tallying up OF assists against runners testing him and leads the Central League (CL) in the category. The glove and arm is good enough to give him regular playing time. He’s currently sitting at 7th in NPB in UZR (Although UZR in NPB isn’t always the most reliable stat to use). He normally plays in RF due to the arm, but realistically can man CF in the bigs thanks to his speed. I would personally play him in the corner, the arm is just too good for center. His speed will keep pitchers honest when he’s on the basepaths as well.
• The dive on his bat is way deeper, including discipline stats that suggest he was PARTICULARLY good at swing decisions, which could help his translation to MLB. In the NPB, at least, this is a guy who just doesn’t go outside of the zone much, has a good contact rate in the zone, and puts up huge power numbers and walk rates.
• Baseball America’s scouting report included this:
While many Japanese hitters keep their hands inside and take short, direct swing paths to the ball, Suzuki takes powerful uppercuts more conducive to the modern MLB game. He gets into a launch position and pulls balls hard in the air for long home runs to left and left-center field, as well as driving the occasional shot to right-center. He has plus-plus raw power and above-average game power he should be able to access once he adjusts to major league velocity. Suzuki rarely faced mid-90s fastballs in Japan and opinions are split how effectively he’ll adjust to that velocity in MLB. Proponents see the bat speed, hand-eye coordination and feel for the barrel for him to be an average hitter once he settles in.
• The Athletic grabbed reactions to the signing from a handful of writers and reporters, and it’s definitely worth a read. Among the thoughts in the Eno Sarris section:
“That should be the best free-agent deal of the offseason by a good ways,” said one executive about this five-year pact with Suzuki. The right-handed outfielder has been a “monster” in Japan, as that executive put it, hitting for a .317 average and slamming 177 homers in the six years since he broke out as a regular there. Combining great pull power with a 16 percent strikeout rate and a 14 percent walk rate speaks to his completeness as a hitter ….
It’s very rare to pair discipline, contact and power the way that Suzuki might. Only 13 hitters last year had a strikeout rate under 20 percent, a walk rate over 10 percent, and above-average power, and it’s an impressive list filled with the stars of today that was, on average, 35 percent better than league average with the stick. That’s the kind of upside we’re talking about.
• If you missed our earlier discussion of Suzuki’s ZiPS projections, see here.
• David Ross, clearly very happy, but can’t really say much yet:
Here’s David Ross on the “rumors” and if Heyward is an option for CF… pic.twitter.com/L3vkF8guuv
— Jordan Bastian (@MLBastian) March 16, 2022
• It’ll be very interesting to see how Suzuki’s skill set translates at Wrigley Field, specifically, and it’s something I’m sure the Cubs focused on intensely in their evaluation (and then recruitment).
This has been particularly true for (1) gap power (2) after the installation of the video board. https://t.co/rVJXtiXMDP
— Bleacher Nation (@BleacherNation) March 16, 2022
• Fun highlights:
Can I interest you in some Seiya Suzuki dongs and bat flips? pic.twitter.com/04AXH63PUN
— Bleacher Nation (@BleacherNation) March 16, 2022
Can't wait to teach the bleacher bums how to do Seiya's cheer. pic.twitter.com/EXvWnyHrot
— Infield Fly Girl (@infieldflygrl) March 16, 2022