One of Japan’s best players over the past decade just landed an MLB deal.
The Cincinnati Reds and outfielder Shogo Akiyama agreed to a free-agent contract on Monday, according to Joel Sherman of the New York Post. Cincinnati’s deal with the outfielder is for three years, according to Sherman. MLB Network’s Jon Heyman reported previously a deal would be worth more than $20 million.
Akiyama did not have to be posted by his Japanese team, the Seibu Lions. He filed for free agency on Oct. 28 and was free to negotiate with any team. He was a five-time All-Star over nine seasons in Nippon Professional Baseball.
With that, the Reds’ aggressive offseason continues. They signed Mike Moustakas to play second base and Wade Miley to help their rotation. They went 75-87 last year after four straight 90-loss seasons and have their sights set on better in 2020.
The soon-to-be 32-year-old Akiyama set an NPB record with 216 hits in 2015. He batted .321 over the past five seasons, including a career-best .359 in his record-breaking year. He led the NPB with a .322 average in 2017.
Akiyama tapped into his power as he got older. He’s posted three consecutive 20-homer seasons, starting with a personal-best 25 dingers in 2017. His speed diminished with age, but he’s continued to be adept at finding the gaps, collecting five consecutive 30-double seasons.
He’s been considered an above average defender in center field. But, much like his speed, those tools trend in the wrong direction as he gets older.
MLB fans got a recent look at Akiyama in the Japan Series last November. He showed off his excellent bat-to-ball skills and baserunning prowess with an RBI triple off Seattle Mariners reliever Erasmo Ramirez.
His return to the global stage was spoiled by a broken bone near the toe in his right foot that forced him from the Team Japan Olympic roster.
Akiyama reportedly turned down a “lucrative” extension from Lions last year, and could have signed a multi-year deal with Seibu if he stayed in Japan. But he apparently had his heart set on joining an MLB team
There have been fewer than 70 MLB players born in Japan; the latest to sign was Mariners southpaw Yusei Kikuchi. The past five Japanese free agents to sign MLB deals — Kikuchi, Shohei Ohtani (Angels), Yoshihisa Hirano (D-backs), Kazuhisa Makita (Padres) and Kenta Maeda (Dodgers) — landed on the West Coast.
In Cincinnati, Akiyama will be a first. The Reds have never had a Japanese player on their roster. They were the only team in MLB that hadn’t.
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