MLB Free Agency: Japanese batting champ (and huge Harper fan) eyes MLB

Japanese batting champ (and huge Harper fan) eyes MLB originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

One up shot to the Phillies making it all the way to the World Series is that free agency is literally right around the corner, as the window opens Thursday afternoon. Surely GM Dave Dombrowski, who did a remarkable job filling roster holes last winter, will be searching everywhere for more talent.

What about the South Pacific?

According to Jon Morosi of mlb.com, Masataka Yoshida of the Orix Buffaloes of NPB is about to be posted by his team soon.

Yoshida, a 29-year-old left fielder, is an intriguing figure. He has few peers as a hitter in Japan, winning the batting title in 2020 and 2021, and finishing second in 2022. Over five full seasons with Orix, the left-handed hitter has more than three times as many hits (746) and strikeouts (234). His career slash line is .327/.421/.539.

He has a surprising amount of pop for his size (5’8”), averaging 50 extra-base hits over the past five seasons.

Those numbers are reminiscent of another import from Orix a quarter-century ago. Ichiro Suzuki came to the U.S. in 2001 and tallied more than 3,000 hits, two batting titles, and his plaque in the Hall of Fame will be hung as soon as he is eligible.

There’s another very interesting wrinkle to Yoshida’s profile. He is a huge fan of Phillies superstar Bryce Harper, check out this Instagram post from 2020:

Translation: “In return for celebrating [Adam] Jones' 2,000 hits in Japan and the United States, Bryce Harper gave me a uniform signed on the number part via [Andrew] McCutchen
The custom-made uniform for my dog, which was in storage, is also a big success” 

That’s adorable. And it may make the Phillies the front-runners to sign Yoshida, should they want to.

The posting process used to be a complicated one, featuring a blind auction process. That’s been eliminated, and all teams are free to negotiate with any players posted by their Japanese clubs.

What does remain is a “release fee,” the amount the MLB team must pay the Japanese club for reaching an agreement to send a player stateside. The amount is based on the size of the contract, a minimum of $5 Million. Because Yoshida is older than 25, and played for Orix for at least six seasons, he will not count against a team’s pool of international bonus money.

It’s definitely food for thought for a team looking to add pieces to ensure a trip back to the World Series.

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