Person of Interest: Is Seiya Suzuki MLB's next Japanese star?

Japan's Seiya Suzuki watches the flight of his grand slam off Netherlands' Jim Ploeger in the 10th inning of their international exhibition series baseball game at Tokyo Dome. (Toru Takahashi/AP)

From the all-star-calibre arms of Yu Darvish and Masahiro Tanaka, to MVP winners Ichiro Suzuki and Shohei Ohtani, the posting system between MLB and NPB (Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball) has brought several studs across the Pacific — delighting North American audiences in the process.

Most of the recent imports have been pitchers (seven of eight since 2014), but this year’s primary transfer target is outfielder Seiya Suzuki.

The Toronto Blue Jays have reportedly been among the most aggressive teams pursuing Suzuki, though several other clubs also appear interested. The 27-year-old is a four-time NPB all-star, and he hit a career-high 38 home runs with the Hiroshima Toyo Carp last season.

Suzuki wields an impact bat that could make a difference wherever he lands. Before that happens, here’s a closer look at the potential star transfer.

Age: 27
From: Arakawa City, Japan
Height: 5-foot-11
Weight: 182 pounds
Position: Outfielder
Bats/Throws: Right/Right
Contract status: Posted for possible transfer from NPB to MLB

ACHIEVING STARDOM OVER TIME

Suzuki began his NPB career in 2013 as a 19-year-old, and like anyone fresh out of school, he was still figuring a lot of things out.

Formerly the ace of his high school pitching staff, Suzuki struggled to find a defensive home in the pros. Across his first two seasons, he spent time at first base, third base, shortstop, left field, center field and right field.

By 2016, Suzuki established himself in the outfield and took home his first of three Gold Glove Awards. He also became a force at the place, embarking on a six-year run of offence that explains all the intercontinental interest in his services.

He earned all-star honours in five of those six seasons (excluding 2020), and he received a Best Nine Award (equivalent to the All-MLB team) four times. The numbers over Suzuki’s past four seasons are particularly staggering: 1.030 OPS, 122 home runs and a 16.1 per cent walk rate.

It’s impossible to know how much of an adjustment Suzuki will need to make against MLB pitching, especially from a velocity standpoint (the average NPB fastball was 90 mph last season, versus 93.5 mph in the majors).

But as long as his elite plate discipline translates — a 16.1 per cent walk rate would’ve ranked fourth among qualified MLB hitters in 2021 — Suzuki should have a solid offensive baseline.

IT’LL COST MILLIONS TO DO BUSINESS

Assuming an MLB club winds up winning the services of Suzuki, they’ll have to bake in a “transfer tax” to their overall expenditure.

The NPB club that’s losing a player (in this case, the Hiroshima Toyo Carp losing Suzuki) are owed a fee from the recipient MLB club based on the value of the contract awarded: 20 per cent for the first $25 million, 17.5 per cent for the next $25 million, and 15 per cent of any exceeding amount.

In a hypothetical case in which Suzuki is awarded a contract valued at $50 million, the Carp would receive a $9.375-million posting fee.

That type of fee is certainly possible in Suzuki’s case, given that ESPN’s Kiley McDaniel predicts he’ll receive a contract worth $48 million over four years. At Fangraphs, Ben Clemens predicted a four-year, $40 million pact.

POTENTIAL SUITORS ARE PLENTIFUL

As mentioned earlier, the Blue Jays appear to have interest in Suzuki. Other particularly keen clubs include the Yankees and the Red Sox, according to Boston Sports Journal’s Sean McAdam.

So, yes, at least three AL East teams have entered the Seiya Suzuki Sweepstakes. But we know the reach is much further than that.

MLB.com’s Jon Morosi mentioned the Rangers as a possible landing spot. Giants president Farhan Zaidi noted that his team is in the market for an outfielder and Suzuki could be a fit.

The Mets have reportedly scouted Suzuki, which suggests they’re in the race. Then there’s the Mariners, who met with Suzuki via Zoom sometime in the early stages of his posting period.

Suzuki’s rumour mill was churning vigorously for a bit, but now it could be months before we know if and where he may sign …

CLOCK IS TICKING (SORT OF)

The MLB/NPB posting system rules go something like this: Once a player is officially posted, he has 30 days to negotiate with an MLB team and sign a contract. If he doesn’t sign within the 30-day period, he returns to his NPB club.

Suzuki was posted on Nov. 22, and the ensuing 10 days ticked by with rumours but no resolution. Then, at midnight on Dec. 2, MLB’s collective bargaining agreement expired and the league implemented a lockout. That brought all MLB activity — including free agent negotiations — to a standstill.

In other words, Suzuki’s 30-day posting period could last months, as his eligibility to speak with MLB clubs won’t resume until a new CBA is in place and the lockout is over.

For Suzuki, MLB fans and all other relevant parties, here’s hoping that’s sooner than later.

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