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Deep Sea Fishing: Yoshitomo Tsutsugo

You’ve probably never watched him play, but Japan’s Tsutsugo has one of the most powerful bats on the market this offseason.

Photo by Masterpress/Getty Images

Time to spend Bruce Sherman’s and Derek Jeter’s money! Entering the third year under new Marlins ownership, fans expect to see significant improvement at the major league level. Some of that improvement will surely come from within, but prospects—as they say—will break your heart. Successful MLB rebuilds make sure to surround their young cores with veterans who can bring credibility and reliable production. Free agent additions figure to be critically important to keeping the Fish on track.

To date, the largest investment that the Sherman/Jeter Marlins have made in any free agent was $5.25 million for Cuban outfielder Víctor Víctor Mesa. “Deep Sea Fishing” is a series of profiles on established, available players—all of them projected to cost more than Víctor Víctor—who should be seriously considered by the front office.

2019 team(s): Yokohoma BayStars

2020 season age: 28

Marlins connection? Nothing firm out there aside from a Craig Mish tweet that the Marlins have some level of interest.

Why the Marlins should want him

Yoshitomo Tsutsugo has spent parts of 10 professional seasons playing for the Yokohoma BayStars, who posted him on Friday. Having already established himself as one of Japan’s elite power hitters, the soon-to-be 28-year-old is ready for a greater challenge.

In ranking him the No. 42 free agent in baseball, Eric Longenhagen of FanGraphs describes a player who makes consistent hard contact that translates into “monstrous, all-fields power.” Tsutsugo is a .285/.382/.528 career hitter with a 20.8 K% and a 13.3 BB%. He has racked up 20-plus home runs in six straight seasons, leading all of Nippon Professional Baseball with 44 HR in 2016. Last summer, he became the 8th-youngest player in NPB history to reach 200 career dingers.

There’s some swag to complement his skill set, too.

Fish Stripes original GIF

The clearest MLB comp for Tsutsugo—first mentioned by Kazuto Yamazaki of Baseball Prospectus, from what I can tell—is Kyle Schwarber. Both are lefty-swinging, bat-first corner outfielders listed at six-foot even; Tsutsugo’s reported average exit velocity of 92 miles per hour is eerily similar to the Cubs slugger, too. On the other hand, Schwarber has more extreme pull tendencies and a proven ability to work deep counts versus major league-caliber pitching. Despite clear differences in physique, perhaps Mark Trumbo (the version from several years ago) is actually a closer match to the Hashimoto, Japan native on the field.

The Marlins head into 2020 with ample playing time available for Tsutsugo. He is also remarkably young relative to the rest of the MLB free agent class—Nick Castellanos is the only alternative on the market with a more recent birthdate who realistically projects as an everyday outfielder, and their age difference is only a few months.

The timing of Tsutsugo’s posting process may also be a slight advantage for Miami. The window to negotiate with him closes on Dec. 15. With several bloated contracts recently coming off the books, the Marlins have the financial flexibility for pretty much anything right now. Meanwhile, talented clubs like the Red Sox and Indians have been openly bemoaning their payroll situations, implying that they’ll need to shed expensive players before even considering engaging in a bidding war.

Why the Marlins might not get him

Tsutsugo was not at his best during his walk year. His .899 OPS was a career low for any qualified season, while his 25.3% strikeout rate set a new personal worst.

Even if he proves to be very productive at the plate, how much would Tsutsugo’s fielding deficiencies negate that? More from Eric Longenhagen:

He’s defensively limited to left field or DH. Tsutsugo has some experience at third base, but he’s a lumbering infielder with below-average hands, which means he should only play there in an emergency. The bad hands make first base kind of dicey, too.

Youth will give him the leverage for a multi-year guaranteed deal, which would pressure the Marlins to trade away some of their intriguing organizational outfield depth. On top of Tsutsugo’s earnings, the acquiring team must pay a substantial tax to Yokohoma, equivalent to 20% of the contract if the total value is $25 million or less, and escalating if the price is above $25 million. (Kiley McDaniel of FanGraphs estimates a two-year, $16 million deal, for what it’s worth.)

According to Jason Coskrey of The Japan Times, Tsutsugo has been dreaming of playing in the U.S. for much of his life, but watching the Yankees and Astros in the 2019 ALCS “helped drive the point home.” He noted the “amazing” atmosphere at those games, which, uh...isn’t typical at Marlins Park, at least not for this upcoming season. Like many other free agents, Tsutsugo may use competitiveness as somewhat of a tiebreaker if multiple teams make similar offers to him.

Admittedly, I knew absolutely nothing about Tsutsugo prior to his late October posting announcement. The same is true for most Fish fans. In 2020, the Marlins must significantly boost attendance and television viewership to put the franchise on sturdy financial footing moving forward. That’ll be achieved with a more talented and marketable roster, especially during the first half of the season before the pipe dream of postseason contention totally fades. If the front office believes with conviction that Yoshitomo Tsutsugo is a star on the rise, then of course, go get him, but the name alone doesn’t move the needle in the same way that available MLB vets would.

Fish Stripes estimates a 7% chance of the Marlins signing Yoshitomo Tsutsugo this offseason.

Be sure to bookmark and check in frequently as the Deep Sea Fishing series continues...