Seiya Suzuki is considered to be one of the top free agent outfielders this offseason as he is expected to be posted by the Hiroshima Carp in Japan. The 27-year old outfielder is projected to be an everyday corner outfielder and is well-regarded offensively.
Suzuki has played in the NPB for nine seasons, amassing a .315 average and an OPS of .985. He’s hit 182 home runs and has driven in 562 runs in his career. This last season in 131 games for Hiroshima, Suzuki slashed .319/.436/.644 with 38 home runs and more walks (87) than strikeouts (86). Not only does Suzuki offer legitimate power potential, but he also has the opportunity to possess an above-average hit tool in the Major Leagues. Defensively, Suzuki has won four NPB Gold Gloves in his career and projects to be an above-average right fielder.
Before we ask if they should, let’s first ask if they could. MLBTradeRumors.com projects Suzuki to land a five-year contract worth $55M. It is anticipated that Suzuki will ultimately land a four or five year deal in the $9M-$12M range for his annual salary – eclipsing the four-year $28M contract the Padres gave to Ha-Seong Kim a year ago. The bigger issue for the Pirates would be the posting fee owed to Suzuki’s team in Japan, who based off of MLBTR’s projection would come with a posting fee of just over $10M – bringing the total value to north of $65M in all.
Now, should they take this risk and pursue the big-hitting outfielder? The answer should be a resounding yes. For teams like the Pirates, having the ability to sign impact players, particularly position players is rare. This year alone, the top position player free agents are all projected to earn $100M+ on their deals and a couple – Carlos Correa and Corey Seager are expected to land deals north of $300M.
With what is expected to be a longer-term deal in the four to five year range, Suzuki would still be under contract when the team is expected to be competitive again a few seasons down the road. In the present, for a team that had their struggles at the plate in 2021, adding a player like Suzuki could provide a big boost to the middle of the lineup and could accelerate the rebuilding process if he can reach his potential. Additionally, with a payroll that is anticipated to be at or near the bottom in 2022, adding a player that carries a price tag of $10M-$11M, give or take, is not only a reasonable addition but also one that isn’t to much of a risk to be burdensome down the road.
The Bucs haven’t shied away from dipping into the Asian market in the past. The Pirates signed Jung-Ho Kang to a four-year contract – albeit for a much lower salary than what Suzuki is projected. Kang was a very productive player for the Pirates in two years before a DUI incident derailed his career. From 2015-2016, Kang posted a 126 OPS+ in 229 games manning short stop and third base in Pittsburgh. He became a productive part of the Pirates’ lineup at a below-rate price thanks to how the international market works.
Is there risk in signing a guy like Suzuki for the Pirates? Certainly. But to me, the reward at the price it would take to acquire the services of Suzuki and the upside he offers outweighs that risk. The Pirates can afford to add a player like Suzuki and not only would it have the chance to be a major upgrade for the team, but it would send a message to the fans that says, “We will spend money if it makes sense for us and we plan on winning again soon.”