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

The Red Sox certainly made a decision by making their first major investment of the offseason in Masataka Yoshida, an outfielder who has spent his career so far in Japan’s NPB, signing him on a five-year, $90 million deal – money, that they could have spent on Willson Contreras, who would have filled a greater need. Yoshida didn’t even make my free agent top 50 despite being eligible because he’s a frequently injured outfielder whose performance in Japan probably doesn’t translate to MLB.

Yoshida’s most notable trait is his swanky walk and strikeout numbers — he rarely strikes, often chokes high on the barrel to get the club on the ball any way he can, and he’s walked more than in four straight years batted, with 64 unintended walks and 42 strikeouts in 2022. He hit .335/.447/.561 for the Orix Buffaloes last season and .339/.429/.563 the year before, with 21 home runs in each of those two years.

Of course, we’ve seen a lot of players come into the majors from NPB and lose their home run power somewhere over the Pacific Ocean. Seiya Suzuki hit 38 home runs 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 the NPB, and then 18 overall in 182 major league games. NPB parks are smaller and the pitching is very diverse, not just in stuff but in approach.

The undersized Yoshida (5ft 8, 176lbs) has an extremely short, punchy swing that favors contact over impact, almost like playing pepper with the infielders. Not only does this approach not lend itself to power, not even extra base power, but it can leave hitters vulnerable to pitchers who can come inside with speed. Ichiro was legendary for his inside-out swing and his ability to make good contact almost anywhere, but we had a generation of hitters trying to emulate him and no one was able to. He’s not a runner and is likely to be confined to left field. With that said, Boston’s investment is entirely dependent on Yoshida’s ability to get to base, and that will likely take a hit as well, since pitchers won’t be banging around a guy who lacks the clout to hurt them with extra bases. Yoshida probably won’t cut much here, and that has some merit, but he’s also likely to cut more here than there. That leaves the Red Sox with a guy coming to base with a decent clip, probably in the .350-360 range, with no power, speed, or much defense stat. He might be a regular on some teams, but I think for a contender he’s more suitable as an extra outfielder – and if I’m right, that’s not good business for Boston. Given the massive void they have behind the record right now, and the fact that Willson Contreras just signed for less than Boston spent on just Yoshida (before the $15.4 million booking fee), I’m just confused.

• The Red Sox also agreed to sign right-hander Kenley Jansen to a two-year, $32 million deal, which is… fine. He’s not a big c-closer guy anymore and that’s probably more money per year than he should have been making but it’s hardly going to hurt the payroll and if you’re more comfortable with an experienced closer then it’s better putting him on a two-year deal rather than a longer one. My guess is that Jansen gives them about two wins in production in about 110 innings over the two years, allowing for a time-out here and there for minor injuries. I expect Alex to leave Cora Jansen for the final three outs, using one of her better relieving opportunities for high-leverage spots before that.

• The Cubs rotation currently consists of Marcus Stroman and a number of fourth/fifth starters. So if they want to compete in 2023 they would need to add one and probably two more starting pitchers that are better than the Justin Steele/Adrian Sampson group. They got one of them Wednesday at Jameson Taillon, signing the former Yankee and Pirate to a four-year, $68 million deal that rates him more like a third/fourth starter and gives the team some room to push through 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 op and threw more strikes than ever and also became a groundball guy, although he can still be homer-prone due to his in-zone command it’s not great. He’s had many injuries, including two surgeries and a bout of testicular cancer, but he’s been mostly healthy for the past two years, and he only turns 31 this year. The Cubs gave him almost exactly the deal I thought he was supposed to get, which I take no credit for, but I bet they see what I see — a solid mid-rotation guy who’s getting more and more could.

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

• The Mets expanded their rotation with a two-year deal with left winger José Quintana, who saw a big resurgence in 2022 after five years as a backup. Quintana has been using his transition more frequently over the past year, which in turn has made his square much more effective while still getting a touch of his curveball and throwing almost anything for strikes. I think his home run rate will go back (up) to the mean, but he could give the fourth-place Mets a few innings at or close to the league average and let them move Tylor Megill out of the rotation for a swing roll or the extra Being a guy when Justin Verlander or Max Scherzer needs an extra tag.

(File Photo: Kiyoshi Ota/Getty Images)

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