Which MLB Team Is the Best Landing Spot for Japanese Slugger Seiya Suzuki?

Zachary D. RymerDecember 7, 2021

YOKOHAMA, JAPAN - AUGUST 07: Outfielder Seiya Suzuki #51 of Team Japan hits a single in the six during the gold medal game between Team United States and Team Japan on day fifteen of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at Yokohama Baseball Stadium on August 07, 2021 in Yokohama, Kanagawa, Japan. (Photo by Steph Chambers/Getty Images)
Steph Chambers/Getty Images

Whenever Major League Baseball's lockout ends and the free-agent market opens back up, one of the hottest players available will be a slugger coming off a season marked by a 1.069 OPS and 38 home runs.

If these numbers don't look familiar to MLB fans, it's because Seiya Suzuki put them up in Japan.

Though the Hiroshima Carp originally posted Suzuki in November, Joel Sherman of the New York Post reported the clock isn't ticking on the slugger's 30-day negotiation window. It's on pause until MLB's lockout lifts upon a new collective bargaining agreement being reached.

When that happens, interest in the 27-year-old almost certainly will not have waned.

In the American League East, the Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees and Toronto Blue Jays have been among the "most aggressive" pursuers of Suzuki, according to Sean McAdam of the Boston Sports Journal. He's already had a digital meeting with the Seattle Mariners, on whom he left an impression:

Ryan Divish @RyanDivish

GM Jerry Dipoto confirms to <a href="https://twitter.com/ByTimBooth?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@ByTimBooth</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/StoneLarry?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">@StoneLarry</a> and others that they had a meeting with Seiya Suzuki via Zoom. <br><br>Dipoto: "I don't know where that will lead. But I can tell you, we're interested. He's a great player."

Whoever ends up with Suzuki will have to pay out a hefty contract, plus a tax of sorts by way of the posting fee. It's 20 percent of the first $25 million, then 17.5 percent of the next $25 million and 15 percent of anything beyond $50 million. As such, the $55 million deal that MLB Trade Rumors projected would cost Suzuki's signing team an additional $10.1 million.

Though not exactly large, these are not small dollar figures. So before we get into where Suzuki fits best, let's first cover what all the fuss is about.

Where There Are Numbers, There Is Also Talent

For starters, it's important to know that Suzuki wasn't an overnight sensation for the Carp in 2021. He's played in at least 115 games in each of the last six seasons and put up some dynamite numbers in the process:

  • 2016: 29 HR, 17 SB, .329 AVG, .398 OBP, .598 SLG
  • 2017: 26 HR, 16 SB, .300 AVG, .389 OBP, .547 SLG
  • 2018: 31 HR, 4 SB, .321 AVG, .439 OBP, .625 SLG
  • 2019: 28 HR, 25 SB, .335 AVG, .453 OBP, .565 SLG
  • 2020: 25 HR, 6 SB, .300 AVG, .409 OBP, .544 SLG
  • 2021: 38 HR, 9 SB, .317 AVG, .433 OBP, .636 SLG

This is an outstanding track record just on its face, and it's even better that Suzuki's trendline is pointing up. To wit, his career bests (noted above in italics) for home runs, stolen bases, average, on-base and slugging have all come within the last three seasons.

At least to the naked eye, the power that Suzuki showed as he teed off for 38 homers this season looks legit:

If we must force a criticism of Suzuki's swing based on the eye test, the best we have is that his exaggerated leg kick could potentially leave him vulnerable to higher velocity in the majors. 

This is admittedly a nit-pick. Plenty of major league sluggers do just fine with exaggerated leg kicks for their timing devices. Suzuki's, in particular, isn't all that dissimilar from the one that Yankees slugger Luke Voit used as he was leading MLB in homers in 2020.

It also stands out that Suzuki is a more advanced hitter than your stereotypical slugger. Whereas it's common for a home run hitter to also rack up strikeouts, Suzuki has walked 20 more times than he's struck out over the last three seasons.

"Our preparation for him was to be a little more cautious," Nick Martinez, who recently signed a contract with the San Diego Padres after a successful stint in Japan, told Brad Lefton of the New York Times. "Japan had an all-star team. All eight hitters have major league potential, so to bat fourth in that lineup is all you need to know about his ability."

Suzuki also isn't an offense-only player. He's won four Gold Gloves for his work in right field, where he's best known for his strong arm:

Tom Mussa v2 @tom_mussa_v2

Seiya Suzuki showing off the arm! Another assist for Suzuki on the year as he guns down the runner at home! <a href="https://t.co/uTmJM7EdZz">pic.twitter.com/uTmJM7EdZz</a>

Easily the flashiest comp that Suzuki has gotten is Atlanta superstar Ronald Acuna Jr. That's perhaps a bit hyperbolic, as MLBTR's survey of teams and scouts turned up more of a "broad range of opinions" on Suzuki's true talent level.

At least one evaluator they spoke to, however, labeled Suzuki as the best player in Japan. So, too, did a scout who spoke to Dylan Hernandez of the Los Angeles Times in August.

Suzuki's Suitors and Potential Dark Horses

Where Suzuki's AL East pursuers are concerned, one of them fits him better than the other two.

With a full outfield and an overwhelmingly right-leaning lineup, the Blue Jays wouldn't be satisfying any outstanding needs by inking Suzuki. The Yankees' lineup is similarly heavy on right-handed hitters, with a trio of large men—Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton and Joey Gallo—locked into a time share at designated hitter and the corner outfield spots.

The Red Sox, on the other hand, upgraded their defense but sacrificed a powerful right-handed-hitting outfielder when they dealt Hunter Renfroe to the Milwaukee Brewers for Jackie Bradley Jr. It therefore makes sense that Suzuki is on their radar, as he would perhaps be an upgrade over Renfroe while also pushing Bradley into a fourth outfielder role.

The Mariners are also a sensible fit for Suzuki. Though Mitch Haniger is a darn good right fielder in his own right, either he or Suzuki could slide into an everyday role over the less-than-exciting Jake Fraley in left field.

Jon Heyman of MLB Network reported in November that the Texas Rangers have also been in on Suzuki. They need him less now after blockbuster deals with Corey Seager and Marcus Semien, yet he would give their lineup still more legitimacy after a 102-loss season.

Heyman's report also mentioned the San Francisco Giants, who might actually have a stronger need for Suzuki than any other contender. Not just because their outfield looks like a relative weakness, but also because their lineup badly needs right-handed thump.

Speculatively, other teams that could get in on Suzuki include the Padres, Philadelphia Phillies and Los Angeles Angels.

The first two, because he'd be a fallback if neither club can sign Nick Castellanos (h/t USA Today's Bob Nightengale and Jon Morosi of MLB Network). The Angels, because their outfield could use another veteran alongside Mike Trout. Plus, it might not hurt that the Halos already have a pretty good Japanese player who could show Suzuki the ropes.

Rolling the Dice on a Prediction

The safe thing to do here would be to peg Suzuki for a team that's known to have interest in him and with which he would fit well.

Instead, we'll take our chances on a dark horse and imagine him in a Padres uniform.

Though they have Wil Myers slated to play right field, he'll be an obvious candidate for everyday DH duty if the next CBA makes the position permanent in the National League. That would open up an everyday job for Suzuki in his natural position.

It's likewise notable that A.J. Preller, the Padres' president of baseball operations, is no stranger to luring stars from Japan. Long before trading for him last winter, he was instrumental in the Rangers signing Yu Darvish back in 2012. More recently, of course, is the pact he made with Martinez.

The four-year, $53 million deal that Avisail Garcia signed with the Miami Marlins could be a template for Suzuki's contract. Given the amount of interest in him and how short supply has become on the hitting side of the market, we'll bump it up to four years and $60 million.

For now, though, all Suzuki and anyone else can do is wait.

Stats courtesy of Baseball Reference.