How good will Masataka Yoshida be for the Red Sox? Like most baseball pundits, I do believe this is an overpay, but not as much as some people in the media would lead you to believe. Baseball America wasn’t all that glowing in their scouting report on Masataka Yoshida, giving him an above-average contact grade, a slightly below-average power grade, and below average grades in fielding and baserunning. All these grades seem to be the consensus on Yoshida, so why did the Red Sox guarantee five years and $90 million for a guy just to fill their gaping hole in left field?
At least a third of Major League Baseball thinks that Yoshida is a big misstep for the Red Sox. Bleacher Report had a write-up which mentioned an MLB executive who believes that Yoshida is worth less than half of the $90 million guarantee. This doesn’t even factor in the $15 million plus posting fee the Red Sox had to pay the Orix Buffaloes just to negotiate with him.
FanGraphs was at least positive on Yoshida’s contact ability and agree that finding a stable presence left field was a necessary acquisition for the Red Sox this off-season. Unfortunately, like many of the nay-sayers, they agree that he’s likely more of a league-average outfielder than one who will live up to his production in Japan.
The Red Sox seem keen on Yoshida being exactly what he was in Japan, an on-base machine who can pop 15 to 20 homers a season while being at least a neutral defender in the short left field of Fenway Park. But, even fantasy baseball experts believe that Yoshida, while fine, is probably a top 40 outfielder at best. One fantasy baseball writer ranks Yoshida between Mitch Haniger and Nick Castellanos. These are good names to be sandwiched between, of course, but both of those players are flawed defensively. Haniger at least hits well enough to be projected to be league average whereas Castellanos seems to be on the decline and his defense is much worse than Haniger’s. Interestingly, MLB Trade Rumors reported the Red Sox being interested in Haniger previously, so Yoshida apparently was always their next best option.
Going back to FanGraphs for a moment, ZiPS has already run projections for Yoshida’s next five seasons, and somewhat predictably, spit out numbers that look exactly league-average for a starting left fielder. Again, this isn’t bad, but for $18 million a year plus a posting fee, the Red Sox must see something that many other teams don’t. The rumors are that the Yankees were also in on Yoshida before resigning Aaron Judge. Of course, Yoshida is a left-handed hitter, and Yankee Stadium has the infamous short porch in right, which would have readily boosted Yoshida’s HR totals.
Perhaps Yoshida will pepper the Green Monster for the next several years and make a lot of MLB executives look dumb. He is a contact hitter and not a dead-pull hitter, after all. While it’s doubtful that he maintains a walk rate that’s twice his strikeout rate as he did in Japan, the Red Sox have to hope that Yoshida continues to hit around .300, post an on-base percentage around .400, and slug at least .500 or so. These are perfectly reasonable levels to attain, but the Red Sox are getting Yoshida in the latter half of his prime. Also, Yoshida was mostly a DH in Japan last year, meaning his fielding could even become a liability in MLB.
Of course, Yoshida isn’t the only Japanese position player to get a big guarantee recently from an MLB team. Seiya Suzuki secured a five-year, $85 million deal from the Chicago Cubs last year. But, Suzuki’s first year was basically only league average, and that’s because he’s a decent base-runner (10 stolen bases) and somewhat below average fielder (4 runs below average in the field according to StatCast and Defensive Runs Saved).
So, did the Red Sox overpay Masataka Yoshida? There’s a strong chance that they did. In what’s been a highly inflated free agent market, even $18 million a year for a league-average outfielder looks a bit rich. But, the thinking is that Suzuki got $85 million, and the only way Yoshida was going to leave Japan was for a slightly higher guarantee. The Red Sox simply paid what it took to get him signed, and we know they were far from the only team trying to acquire his services.
Yoshida does make the 2023 Red Sox better, but unfortunately, if he becomes a slightly worse defensive version of Seiya Suzuki, even with superior on-base skills, this is going to be a chunk of payroll that may have been better spent on short-term stopgaps like Jurickson Profar or Michael Conforto. Heck, a reunion with Andrew Benintendi may have been cheaper! Let’s just hope the Red Sox know something we don’t.