In case you missed it, the Pirates agreed to a one-year, $4M deal on Thanksgiving Eve to bring back Yoshi Tsutsugo. Jason Mackey of the Pittsburgh Post Gazette was the one who broke the news.
Tsutsugo was signed by the Pirates in August and he immediately made an impact with the bat. In 43 games with Pittsburgh, Tsutsugo slashed .268/.347/.535 (136 OPS+) with eight doubled, eight home runs and 25 runs driven in. He provided an instant boost to a Pirates’ lineup that struggled throughout the 2021 season and finished tied for the fourth most homers by any Pirate this season.
The Rays originally signed Tsutsugo out of Japan and he showed signs of the power he was heralded for hitting eight home runs for Tampa Bay in 51 games in 2020. His 2021 got off to a disastrous start and was ultimately picked up by the Dodgers before being released, giving the Pirates the opportunity to sign him.
Defensively, Tsutsugo manned first base and right field for the Bucs. Tsutsugo is at least an adequate first baseman but struggled in the outfield with minus-five defensive runs saved in 150.1 innings in right. When discussing the possibility of bringing back Tsutsugo, general manager Ben Cherington said that the plan was for Tsutsugo to get the bulk of his defensive work at first base if brought back into the fold. If the designated hitter makes its way to the National League in 2022, that will be another option to get his bat in the lineup.
By bringing back Tsutsugo, the Pirates are hoping that the lefty slugger will continue to provide a boost to a lineup that needs help – especially in the power department – and show he is more the player he was with the Bucs and not so much the Rays and Dodgers. Tsutsugo spent most of his time in the Pirates lineup in the second spot right in front of Bryan Reynolds, but it is also possible Tsutsugo could anchor the middle of the lineup as the club’s cleanup hitter.
Another part of the equation is now what the Pirates intend to do with Colin Moran. There are three possible situations that could arise. One, Moran is kept in the fold and he and Tsutsugo split time between first base and designated hitter (assuming there is one in 2022. Two, the Pirates try and find a trade partner for Moran. The Yankees, Red Sox and Brewers are among the teams who might be looking for a first baseman. Finally, there is a chance Moran gets non-tendered. MLBTradeRumors.com projected Moran for the same $4M that the Pirates just paid Tsutsugo, and it’s entirely possible that projection may prove to rich for Pittsburgh considering the circumstances.
The $4M contract now marks the richest free agent contract handed out by Cherington during his tenure as the Pirates’ general manager. It’s been a pretty active offseason so far for the Bucs who in addition to bringing back Tsutsugo, agreed to a one-year deal with Jose Quintana and claimed outfielder Greg Allen off waivers from the Yankees.
The Pirates still have some more work to do this offseason. Pittsburgh needs to find a backup catcher, will likely look to add an arm to the bullpen and could decide to pursue another starting pitcher and outfielder.