Law: The Red Sox bet big on Masataka Yoshida; Cubs sign Jameson Taillon and more

The Red Sox certainly made a choice in giving Masataka Yoshida, an outfielder who has spent his career to date in Japan’s NPB, their first big outlay of the offseason, signing him to a five-year, $90 million deal — money they could have spent on Willson Contreras, who would have filled a bigger need. Yoshida didn’t even make my top 50 free agents, even though he was eligible, as he’s an often-injured outfielder whose power output in Japan seems unlikely to carry over to MLB.

Yoshida’s most notable attribute is his gaudy walk and strikeout numbers — he rarely punches out, often choking way up on the barrel to just get the bat on the ball any way he can, and he has walked more than he’s struck out in four straight years, with 64 unintentional walks and 42 strikeouts in 2022. He hit .335/.447/.561 for the Orix Buffaloes this past season, and .339/.429/.563 the year before, with 21 homers in each of those two years.

Of course, we’ve seen a lot of hitters come from NPB to the majors and lose their home-run power somewhere over the Pacific Ocean. Seiya Suzuki hit 38 homers for Hiroshima in 2021, and 14 for the Cubs last year. Kosuke Fukudome hit 31 and 34 in his two best seasons for Chunichi, and then hit 37 homers in MLB … but it took him five seasons to do it. Yoshi Tsutsugo hit 44 and 38 homers in his two best years in NPB and then hit 18 total in 182 major-league games. NPB parks are smaller, and the pitching is very different, not just in stuff but in approach.

The undersized Yoshida (5-foot-8, 176 pounds) has an extremely short, punchy swing that favors contact over impact, almost like he’s playing pepper with the infielders. Not only does that approach not lend itself to power, even extra-base power, but it also can leave hitters vulnerable to pitchers who can come inside with velocity. Ichiro was legendary for his inside-out swing and his ability to make good contact almost anywhere he was pitched, but we’ve had a generation of hitters trying to imitate him, and no one has been able to do it. He’s not a runner and is probably limited to left field. That leaves Boston’s investment depending entirely on Yoshida’s ability to get on base, and that’s likely to take a hit as well, as pitchers aren’t going to pitch around a guy who lacks the impact to hurt them with extra bases. Yoshida probably won’t strike out much here, and that has some value, but he’s also likely to strike out more here than he did there. That leaves the Red Sox with a guy who gets on base at a decent enough clip, probably in the .350-360 range, without power, speed, or much defensive value. He might be a regular on some teams, but I think for a contender, he might fit more as an extra outfielder — and if I’m right, this is not a good deal for Boston. Given the massive void they have behind the plate right now, and the fact that Willson Contreras just signed for less than Boston spent just on Yoshida (before the $15.4 million posting fee), I’m just confused.

• The Red Sox also agreed to sign right-hander Kenley Jansen on a two-year, $32 million deal that is … fine. He’s not a capital-C Closer type anymore, and that’s probably more money per year than he should have gotten, but it’s hardly going to sink the payroll, and if they’re more comfortable with a veteran closer, better to get him on a two-year deal than a longer one. My guess is Jansen gives them about two wins worth of production in about 110 innings over the two years, accounting for some time off here and there for minor injuries. I’m assuming Alex Cora will leave Jansen for the last three outs and use one of their better relief options for high-leverage spots before that.

• The Cubs’ rotation right now is Marcus Stroman and a bunch of fourth/fifth starter types, so if they want to contend in 2023, they needed to go add one and probably two more starting pitchers who are better than the Justin Steele/Adrian Sampson group. They got one of them Wednesday in Jameson Taillon, signing the former Yankee and Pirate to a four-year, $68 million contract that values him more like a third/fourth starter and leaves the team with some room to come out ahead if he continues to see improvement in his command. He’s a four-and-a-half pitch guy who came back from his second Tommy John surgery throwing more strikes than ever, becoming a groundball guy as well, although he can still be homer-prone because his command within the zone isn’t great. He’s had a lot of injuries, including the two surgeries and a bout with testicular cancer, but he was mostly healthy the last two years, and he’s only 31 this year. The Cubs gave him almost exactly the deal I thought he should get, for which I take no credit, but I bet they see what I see — a solid mid-rotation guy who could still become more than that.

• The Cubs also signed Cody Bellinger to a one-year, $17 million deal. I really have no idea what to make of Bellinger at this point. His pitch selection is terrible, his swing is kind of the same as it always was but looks a lot worse when he’s swinging at the wrong pitches, and he gives the Cubs a first baseman with elite defense who can also play the outfield. I hope they can fix him.

• The Mets continued to add to their rotation with a two-year agreement with lefty José Quintana, who bounced back in a big way in 2022 after five years of replacement-level work. Quintana used his changeup more often last year, and that in turn made his four-seamer much more effective, while he can still get whiffs on his curveball and throws just about everything for strikes. I do think his home run rate is going to regress (upward) to the mean, but he could give the Mets some league-average innings, or close to it, in the fourth spot and lets them move Tylor Megill out of the rotation into a swing role or to be the extra guy if Justin Verlander or Max Scherzer needs an extra day.

(File photo: Kiyoshi Ota / Getty Images)

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