Could the answer to the Toronto Blue Jays’ outfield needs come from Japan?
Anyone familiar with the current state of the Blue Jays knows that upgrading their pitching is their biggest need. It isn’t their only need, however.
Also on Toronto’s offseason wish list is an upgrade in the outfield. Lourdes Gurriel Jr.had a successful 2019 season following his early season demotion to AAA and subsequent move to LF. Randal Grichuk signed a 5 year, $52 million contract extension in April 2019. There are big concerns over his .280 OBP; on the positive side he led the 2019 Jays with 31 home runs.
Barring injuries, you can pretty much assume Gurriel and Grichuk will be occupying two of Toronto’s outfield spots come opening day 2020.
There are currently five other outfielders on the 40 man roster.
Teoscar Hernandez had an impressive stretch with the bat after the all star break, slashing .259/.346/.592. His defence, however, remains a concern. It may be time to give him a full season at DH and see if he can replicate that offensive production.
Billy McKinney, Derek Fisher, Jonathan Davis and (as much as it breaks my heart to admit it) Anthony Alford have yet to demonstrate that they can consistently contribute in the outfield of a contending Blue Jays team. If Toronto can acquire someone with a better track record in professional baseball, they would be wise to do so.
Yoshitomo Tsutsugo turned 28 on November 26. He is a 10 year veteran of the Japanese Central League, the majority of which was spent with the Yokohama Bay Stars.
He bats left handed, which would give the Jays another southpaw along with Cavan Biggio in a predominantly right handed line up which will likely include Guerrero, Bichette, Gurriel, Grichuk, Hernandez and Jansen on most days.
Defensively Tsutsugo has played left field, third base and first base. He and Gurriel Jr could play the corner outfield positions with Grichuk in center.
Offensively, Tsutsugo has a career .907 OPS over his professional career. Last season he hit .272/.388/.511. The possibility that he could come close to replicating that offence in North America is what makes him interesting to a number of MLB organizations.
December 19, 5 pm is the deadline for Tsutsugo to sign with an MLB team. At least one source has reported that the Blue Jays are the front runner to sign him. Of course that may or may not prove to be accurate.
If the Jays were to sign Tsutsugo another possibility is to go in a different direction for the outfield and use Tsutsugo at first. They do have a vacancy there with the departure of Justin Smoak. Rowdy Tellez with his .293 OBP is by no means guaranteed to stick in MLB.
It would definitely be a risky move for the Jays. There are the usual concerns when signing a free agent of committing significant money to someone who may or may not be able to replicate past success. Additionally, Japanese league numbers don’t always translate into success in MLB.
There have been a total of 58 Japanese born players to play at least one game in MLB. Some position players have had success. Ichiro Suzuki became a star. Others such as Hideki Matsui and more recently Shohei Ohtani have done well.
But not everyone does that well.
Given the offensive upside, it’s a gamble the Blue Jays might want to take.
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