Masataka Yoshida adds contact and patience to a Red Sox lineup taking shape at last


SAN DIEGO — As the Winter Meetings wound down, it turned out the Red Sox were just getting started.

On Wednesday morning, the Red Sox were in the final stages of a deal for reliever Kenley Jansen. By late morning, they had made progress in talks with Xander Bogaerts and by the afternoon they had an agreement with Japanese free-agent outfielder Masataka Yoshida. Put it all together, and the Red Sox team of 2023 and beyond is starting to truly take shape.

The 29-year-old left-handed hitting Yoshida was widely considered the best outfield option on the market behind Aaron Judge and Brandon Nimmo, though Nimmo has a qualifying offer attached and Judge’s behemoth contract limited his suitors before he re-signed with the Yankees on Wednesday.

Less than a day after Yoshida’s Nippon Professional Baseball team, the Orix Buffaloes, posted him to Major League Baseball, opening the door for teams to negotiate with him, the Red Sox had a five-year, $90 million deal in place for the dynamic outfielder, a source told The Athletic. The Red Sox also paid $15.4 million to the Buffaloes for the posting fee.

As the Red Sox seek to add power and patience to their lineup, Yoshida offers a premium at both. In 119 games, Yoshida hit .335 with a 1.008 OPS, 21 homers and 28 doubles. He managed a remarkable feel for the strike zone, drawing nearly twice as many walks (80) as he did strikeouts (41) in over 508 plate appearances last year. Over seven NPB seasons, Yoshida hit .327 with a .960 OPS and put up an on-base percentage of .400 or better in six straight seasons. And while there figures to be a learning curve to major league pitching — The Athletic’s Keith Law has concerns about his power translating to MLB — particularly against hard-throwing left-handers, as well as a general adjustment to increased velocity in MLB compared to NPB, the Red Sox clearly feel Yoshida can handle the challenge. The five-year, $90 million deal was the largest for a Japanese position player, topping the Cubs’ five-year, $85 million deal for Seiya Suzuki last year.

Former teammiates raved about Yoshida’s swing. (Koji Watanabe / Getty Images)

The Red Sox scouted Yoshida heavily with a source familiar with their scouting operation indicating earlier in the week that it would be “very surprising” if the Red Sox weren’t “serious contenders” for the outfielder.

In a feature on Yoshida from The Athletic’s Will Sammon, former big leaguer Adam Jones, who played two seasons with Yoshida in 2020 and 2021, labeled him a “Japanese Juan Soto” for his all-field approach and aversion to striking out.

“Like Juan Soto, he hits everything — and walks; he doesn’t swing out of the zone,” Jones said.

Depending on how the rest of the lineup shapes up, it wouldn’t be surprising for the Red Sox to hit Yoshida in the bottom of the order, at least initially, as he adjusts to major league pitching. While the Red Sox appear confident in his skill set, the transition to facing MLB pitching isn’t always smooth for Japanese position players, with Shohei Ohtani representing a best-case scenario and fellow Japanese free-agent hitters Shogo Akiyama and Yoshi Tsutsugo finding much less success than in Japan.

Yoshida, who’s known more for his offense than his defense, probably fits best in left field, aided by the wall rather than in a challenging right field at Fenway Park with its quirky dimensions. With that in mind, Alex Verdugo should take over right field on a more full-time basis, an idea he was open to at the end of the season.

News of the Yoshida deal broke just minutes after the media met with chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom for the final time at the Winter Meetings. Bloom held a poker face when asked about Yoshida and his posting earlier in the day.

“He’s someone that we like,” Bloom said. “We spent a lot of time on him. Really, really good hitter, quality at-bat and great talent.

“When you look at a player like him, the quality of the at-bat stands out.”

What stands out about the Red Sox pursuit of Yoshida is the five-year deal for the outfielder. The contract marks the second-largest that Bloom has signed in his three years in Boston, behind the six-year, $140 million deal for Trevor Story last spring. The commitment positions Yoshida squarely in the middle of the Red Sox push back into contention. With the additions of three relievers — Jansen, Chris Martin, and Joely Rodriguez — to the bullpen and the potential return of Bogaerts, the roster is starting to feel solid in a way it has not to this point in the offseason.

One hiccup for Yoshida with the Red Sox? He idolizes Bryce Harper and wore No. 34 in honor of Harper’s old number with the Nationals. That number carries its own lore in Boston and with it taken out of circulation in 2017 following David Ortiz’s retirement, won’t be an option for Yoshida with the Red Sox.

(Top photo: Kiyoshi Ota / Getty Images)


Related posts

Leave a Comment