Star Nippon Professional Baseball outfielder Seiya Suzuki is set to travel to the United States in preparation for face-to-face negotiations with Major League teams once the lockout is lifted, per a report from Japan’s Nikkan Sports. Suzuki and agent Joel Wolfe of Wasserman have already conducted virtual meetings with at least eight clubs, and they’ll continue prepping for advanced negotiations once the transaction freeze has thawed.
Nikkan’s report suggests that the Padres, Cubs, Mariners and Giants are “expected” to be among the finalists for Suzuki once negotiations resume. That’s not an exhaustive list, but it’s worth noting that all four host their Spring Training in Arizona, particularly given this report’s implication that teams with Spring Training camps in Florida may be at a disadvantage when it comes to negotiating with Suzuki. If that’s indeed the case, it’d be a welcome preference for the four “expected” finalists and the Rangers — who’ve also been tied to Suzuki thus far. The Red Sox, Yankees and Blue Jays — each of whom hosts Spring Training in Florida — have all been linked to Suzuki as well, however, and Yahoo Japan suggests the Red Sox could be an early favorite (although it seems dubious to crown any kind of front-runner after just nine days of talks and before Suzuki has had a single in-person meeting).
A 27-year-old right fielder who won his fifth NPB Gold Glove in 2021, Suzuki is regarded as the best player to jump from NPB to Major League Baseball since Shohei Ohtani. That’s not a comparison between the two, of course — far from it. Scouting reports on Suzuki peg him as a potential everyday right fielder who can hit for power and play average or better defense, however, which should generate plenty of interest around the league.
MLBTR spoke to multiple Major League evaluators prior to the point at which Suzuki was formally posted by the Hiroshima Carp, receiving generally favorable reviews and hearing at least once that Suzuki is currently the best player in Japan. Dylan Hernandez of the L.A. Times received a similar opinion back in August, and Sports Info Solution’s Ted Baarda took a lengthier look at Suzuki in early November.
Statistically, Suzuki checks every box. He posted a mammoth .317/.433/.636 batting line with 38 home runs, 26 doubles and nine steals in 533 plate appearances this past season in Japan, and that’s roughly in line with the type of production he’s delivered dating back to 2018. Over the past four seasons, Suzuki owns a .319/.435/.592 slash line with 121 home runs, 115 doubles and four triples in 2179 plate appearances. He’s also walked nearly as often as he’s punched out, drawing a free pass in 16.1% of his plate appearances against just a 16.4% strikeout rate since 2018.
Of course, it remains to be seen just how Suzuki will fare against more advanced pitching. Major League Baseball features, in particular, considerably higher velocity than NPB hitters face on the regular. That’s often led to some struggles from NPB hitters making the jump to North American ball — including recent examples like Yoshi Tsutsugo and Shogo Akiyama — but it should be stressed that Suzuki is younger than either was upon coming to MLB and has a much better offensive skill set.
Whenever the transaction freeze lifts, Suzuki will have 21 days remaining in his 30-day posting window. He and Wolfe are free to use the entirety of that three-week window to find a new club, although given the possibility (if not the likelihood) that the start of Spring Training will be delayed, it could behoove them to act sooner than later in order to begin the process of making the already difficult transition to Major League Baseball.
As a reminder, any team that signs Suzuki will also owe a release fee to the Carp. The current iteration of the NPB/MLB posting system stipulates that an MLB team must pay a fee equal to 20% of the contract’s first $25MM, plus 17.5% of the next $25MM, and 15% of any money spent thereafter. That’s on top of the actual value of the contract. So, for instance, a $55MM contract for Suzuki would come with a $10.125MM release fee — a total investment of $65.125MM.
Salary that can be unlocked via club/player options, performance incentives, etc. is not immediately factored in but does fall under the purview of the release fee once Suzuki reaches those thresholds. For example, in that same $55MM hypothetical, if Suzuki’s new team were to exercise a $10MM club option for an additional season, they’d owe the Carp an additional $1.5MM in release fees. Were Suzuki to unlock a $1MM bonus based on total plate appearances, another $150K of release fees would go to the Carp.