Some interesting news broke on the hot stove this afternoon, as Yahoo Japan reported that the Hiroshima Carp plan to post outfielder Seiya Suzuki, which means that MLB teams can bid for his services this offseason.
And surprisingly, the Royals were one of the teams mentioned as a possible bidder this winter:
While Suzuki may not be a Shohei Ohtani, Ichiro Suzuki, or Yu Darvish in terms of worldwide “star power”, Suzuki has proven to be one of the best outfielders in the Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB) league the past few seasons. Even though Hiroshima has been a pretty mediocre club the past few years (they have hovered around .500 the past three seasons, according to Baseball-Reference), Suzuki has been the Carp’s best power hitter, in addition to being their best overall player in general.
Since 2019, Suzuki has accumulated 91 home runs, 250 RBI, and has drawn 262 walks to only 240 strikeouts in 389 total games. Over this past season, the 27-year-old outfielder was particularly phenomenal in what could be his last season with the Carp, and NPB in general, as the Rays Metrics Twitter account tweeted out his 2021 stat line below (in addition to an impressive home run he hit in the Olympics):
In addition to being a sterling hitter, Suzuki shines as a legitimate “five-tool” talent. His defense garnered rave reviews from Tom Mussa of Prospects Live, who wrote a piece on Suzuki in late October when news first broke that he may be posted. Here is a snippet from Mussa’s excellent piece that highlights his defense and baserunning:
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.“SEIYA SUZUKI: A DEEP DIVE ON THE NEXT BIG THING OUT OF JAPAN” by Tom Mussa; Prospects Live
Here is also a look at Suzuki’s defense in action in NPB play, as he shows off his 70-80 grade arm:
Thus, it’s not a surprise that Suzuki is coveted by multiple teams, which includes the Tampa Bay Rays, Seattle Mariners, Philadelphia Phillies, Texas Rangers, and Toronto Blue Jays, in addition to the Royals, according to the Yahoo Report.
It seems likely that Suzuki will command more than outfielder Shogo Akiyama, who earned a three-year, $21 million deal from the Cincinnati Reds prior to the 2020 season. Akiyama was one of the most recent high-profile signings from Japan, but Suzuki is six years younger than Akiyama and has a more advanced power tool than Akiyama as well.
However, the big difference is that no club had to pay a “posting fee” for Akiyama’s services, which won’t be the case for Suzuki. So in addition to a contract that most likely will be more than $7 million in AAV (average annual value), they will also have to pay an additional fee just to negotiate with Suzuki, which will cost teams, including the Royals, a few million dollars more, at the very least.
That being said, if the Royals are aggressive in their pursuit of Suzuki and win the posting bid, then they will be the exclusive negotiators with Suzuki. If they do not come to an agreement, Suzuki will return to Japan and will have to wait another year, should he want to play in the Majors.
And hence, Royals fans have to ask…will the Royals be aggressive in the posting process for Suzuki, and would he fit in the Kansas City outfield, right field especially?
The answer is more intriguing than Royals fans may initially think…
While it may be easy to dismiss the NPB as being “minor” in comparison to Major League Baseball, the competition is much better than American baseball fans may think.
The NPB is the second-best baseball league, competition-wise, in the world, and in some cases, the NPB game has aspects that may actually be “better” than MLB, as sacrilegious as that sounds. Here’s a comment on a NPB Reddit thread talking about the “competition” in comparison to Major League Baseball, and the discussion on catcher play was really interesting to read about:
In addition, baseball is the national and most popular sport in Japan, unlike America, where football and basketball are seemingly dwarfing baseball in terms of popularity with athletes and fans, unfortunately (thank you, Rob Manfred). So the country’s best athletes in Japan opt to play baseball early on in their athletic careers, and Suzuki is living proof of that, especially when one looks at his five-tool profile.
Now, will Suzuki automatically transition his hitting metrics to the MLB overnight? Probably not, but we have seen from Ohtani that superior tools will translate, regardless of the competition. And at the very least, Suzuki’s superior plate discipline will fare well in the States, especially in a Royals lineup that can tend to be too free-swinging.
And of course, it’s hard for Royals fans to ignore the Suzuki homers from this past year and NOT imagine what he could do with the Royals and at Kauffman Stadium:
Now, I imagine some of the bigger market teams will be initial favorites to sign Suzuki. Seattle has a much bigger Japanese-American population than Kansas City, as does Toronto, which could endear more to Suzuki, especially since this will be his first stint in professional baseball in America.
However, I do not think the Royals being in a “small Midwestern market” automatically eliminates them from consideration for the power-hitting talent. In addition to Akiyama signing in Cincinnati, which is similar in size and demographics to Kansas City, utility player Yoshi Tsutsugo signed with the Tampa Bay Rays initially and has recently played for the Pittsburgh Pirates, not exactly a “huge” market or budget team.
Let’s be honest, the team with the best financial offer and playing time situation will resonate the most with Suzuki in his decision to play in America in 2021.
And the Royals do well in both of those areas.
The Royals projected payroll will be $78.2 million, which would be the 21st-highest in baseball next year, according to Cot’s Contracts. Furthermore, with Jorge Soler now hitting for the Braves in the World Series, the Royals don’t have a “set” starting right fielder in place for 2022. Yes, Kyle Isbel and Edward Olivares have shown flashes of potential during their limited stints with the Royals in 2021, and Hunter Dozier “can” play right field if needed (“should” is another issue). However, neither Isbel nor Olivares have the power potential of Suzuki, and this is a team that needs power in the lineup in 2022, especially when one realizes that no Royals hitter, other than Salvador Perez, hit more than 20 home runs last season.
It may be a pipe dream for Royals fans to see Suzuki in Royals blue and white in 2022. That being said, if owner John Sherman and president Dayton Moore are serious about taking the next step and pushing for a “postseason” spot, then they will need to find a way to upgrade the lineup. Even if Suzuki costs about $10-12 million per year (and that’s including the posting fee) over a 3-4 year span, that will probably be slightly cheaper than what they would get for a free agent outfielder this winter.
Thus, perhaps investing in the Carp slugger could be a good strategy for the Royals, not just in the short term, but long-term as well, especially since Suzuki won’t turn 30 until 2024.
It will be an interesting race for Suzuki’s services this winter…
But don’t count out the Royals by any means…
The fact they are being mentioned at all this early in the “hot stove” season could be a good sign of their chances to land him for 2022.
Photo Credit: The Japan Times