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Why the Rockies should sign Seiya Suzuki

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Suzuki presents an intriguing option for a team needing offensive power.

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In late November — back before the owners locked out the players — the Hiroshima Toyo Carp of Nippon Professional Baseball posted outfielder Seiya Suzuki, making him available to all 30 MLB teams. The Rockies are reportedly among those interested.

Wait. The Colorado Rockies?

Indeed.

Bill Schmidt has emphasized that the Rockies’ offense needs power. In looking at free-agent options, it’s become clear that while the slugging is there, too often the defense is not. (Kyle Schwarber in left field would probably not be pretty.) Meanwhile, trades that might work for the Rockies would probably require them to give up too much in return — or at least more than they’d like to give up given the organization’s attachment to its prospects.

Maybe Seiya Suzuki would prove a better fit.

Who Is Seiya Suzuki?

The 27-year-old native of Arakawa, Tokyo, Japan, was drafted as a pitcher by the Hiroshima Toyo Carp in the second round of the 2012 NPB draft. The Carp then converted him to an infielder. When he was 19 in 2013, Suzuki made his NPB debut. However, he spent most of 2013-14 in the Carp’s farm system.

Source: NPB.JB

Before the start of the 2015 season, the Carp moved Suzuki to the outfield, and his professional career began to take off. In 2016, he made his first NPB All-Star Game appearance. In 2019, the right-handed hitter won the NPB Home Run Derby and the Central League batting title. He is also a four-time All-Star and has won three Gold Gloves. (Here’s a profile from the Los Angeles Times.)

He was the starting right fielder and batted cleanup for Japan’s Gold Medal Olympic Team. (Yes, the team that defeated the US.)

Short version: He’s good.

How’s His Offense?

Here are the numbers over the last five seasons according to Baseball Reference:

Source: Baseball Reference

With an NPB career slashline of .315/.415/.571 for an OPS of .985, what’s not to like? Since 2016, Suzuki has hit at least 25 home runs each season with a career-high 38 in 2021. He has had a cumulative OPS of 1.016 since 2019. Offensively, Suzuki has been likened to Juan Soto, Ronald Acuña Jr., and a Diamondbacks-era AJ Pollack.

Notice that in 2021, he had more walks (87) than Ks (86). According to DeltaGraphs, a Japanese sabremetric site, in 2021, Suzuki had a WAR of 8.4, the highest in the NPB league. (A YouTube video claimed that Suzuki had a wRC+ of 207, but I couldn’t verify that, so take it for what it’s worth.)

Enough talk. Let’s watch some bombs:

Here’s that swing in slow motion:

While it’s difficult to do a direct comparison with MLB free-agent outfielders like Kyle Schwarber and Nick Castellanos, Suzuki can probably hold his own. Matt Eddy writes, “Scouts see Suzuki as a potential average hitter, once he adjusts to MLB velocity, with above-average game power and raw power that grades as a 70 on the 20-80 scouting scale. His swing is geared for damage with an uppercut bat path, as opposed to the middle-of-the-field or even inside-out hitting approaches favored by many Japanese hitters.”

So Suzuki Has the Bat, But What About the Defense?

He’s projected to be an average-to-above-average defender, so not a rockstar, but also not a liability. His fielding percentage is .989, and in 2020, he had a DRS of 6 in right field. See for yourself.

Is Suzuki going to best Manuel Margot? Probably not, but he’s also probably going to be significantly better than Kyle Schwarber defensively.

How Does Posting Work, and What’s the Projected Salary?

“Posting” means that the Hiroshima Toyo Carp have allowed Suzuki to sign an MLB contract. The Carp, then, will be paid a “posting fee,” a percentage based on Suzuki’s salary and bonuses. So the Carp, a small-market team, will get paid.

Kiley McDaniels projects that Suzuki will get a four-year contract for $48 million. (He refers to Suzuki as “the best foreign pro free-agent position player in some time” and has ranked him 17th in his list of free agents.) With McDaniels’ math, the Carp would get just a little over $9 million as their posting fee. (MLB Trade Rumors projects five years at $55 million with a posting fee just over $10 million.)

Short answer: The Rockies can afford to sign Seiya Suzuki. However, the market is uncertain, and signing Suzuki is not without risk. He’s proven himself in NPB, but how will he fare in MLB?

It’s worth your time to watch this brief interview with Suzuki from November. He explains his desire to play MLB — and he’s charming.

No, I’m serious: He’s really terrific.

Since Suzuki’s contract was posted 10 days before the lockout, he will have 20 days to sign a contract. Otherwise, he’ll spend 2022 with the Carp.

There’s no rush as far as Suzuki is concerned. “I have no such desire to get it done quickly,” Suzuki said at a team practice in Hiroshima as reported by the Japan Times. “It will happen the way it happens.”

He’s also coy about his plans: “A lot of teams hit my heart,” he said in a recent interview. But he also revealed that he’s a nachos enthusiast, so that’s something to keep in mind.

Who knows if Seiya Suzuki would be interested in playing in Colorado? (Can the Rockies promise they’ll create a new and exciting Seiya Nachos?) But he is a player the Rockies should pursue.