How Real is the Pirates Interest in Japanese Outfielder Seiya Suzuki?

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As of Monday morning, 27-year old, Japanese outfielder Seiya Suzuki has been posted by his Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB) club, and his rights are available for bidding by all 30 Major League Baseball clubs.  Japanese reporter Nachi Tomonari reported that seven teams are interested: the New York Mets, Texas Rangers, Philadelphia Phillies, Atlanta Braves, Pittsburgh Pirates, Seattle Mariners, and Colorado Rockies, with the Braves and Rangers being the initial front runners.

When under contract by a NPB club, players can request their rights to be posted for Major League clubs to bid on.  In the event that an agreement is reached between the player and the club, the NPB team that posted the rights receives a fee from the MLB club.  This is considered a “release fee”.  The release fee is calculated based on a percentage of the agreed upon contract between the MLB and the NPB.  This fee can be upwards of $15-20 million.

If no agreement is reached within a certain time frame, then the player returns to their NBP club for the upcoming season.  Players who do not reach an agreement cannot be posted again until the following offseason.  In Suzuki's case, his rights are posted for bidding until December 22nd at 5pm ET, however in the case of a work stoppage, that posting period would freeze. 

Furthermore, if a player is under the age of 25, they are limited by international bonus pool money restrictions set by the MLB.  Since Suzuki is over 25, and has completed at least six seasons in a recognized professional league, he is not limited by this restriction as superstar Shohei Ohtani was a few years ago.

Suzuki has played nine seasons with the Hiroshima Toyo Carp.  In his career, Suzuki has batted .309 with 189 homeruns and 621 RBI in 1054 games played.  In 2021, he batted .319 with 38 homeruns and 88 RBI in 131 games played in Japan’s Central League.  

Suzuki has also shown great plate discipline as he matures, walking 103 times in 2019 while only striking out 81.  Last season he walked 87 times while only striking out 86.  You’d be hard pressed to find many MLB’ers as of late that walk more than they strike out.  In fact, among the top 150 walk leaders in 2021 only two hitters had more walks than strikeouts, Juan Soto and Yasmani Grandal.

Pirates Interest in Suzuki

So just how realistic is the Pirates interest in Suzuki?  They certainly should be interested.  Despite protecting three outfield prospects last Friday and currently having eight outfielders on the Active Roster, the outfield remains one of the Pirates weaker points within the organization, even with superstar Bryan Reynolds in center field.  That is in part why the Pirates did protect three outfield prospects because they need to give as many potential outfielders a shot at developing into productive big leaguers.   

Suzuki reportedly has a decent arm and has played over 887 games in the outfield.  He is also considered the 15th best free agent heading into this winter and the third best outfield free agent behind just Nick Castellanos and Starling Marte.

Since Suzuki is not subject to the same ceiling that Ohtani was, the terms of his contract are unlimited.  Realistically, however, if Suzuki is ranked just below Castellanos, we can use Spotrac as a resource to come up with a ballpark number for Suzuki.  Spotrac has Castellanos' projected salary at a little over $21 million per year and Michael Conforto at around $19 million.  Additionally, they have fellow outfielder Kyle Schwarber projected at a little over $12 million.  

Based on this data, we can assume Suzuki will command anywhere from $15-$20 million per year.  Especially since Suzuki is younger than all of these outfielders listed.  However, there is an unknown to how these international players will adapt to the big leagues.  While Shohei Ohtani has taken the league by storm, players like Daisuke Matsuzaka and Kosuke Fukodome never quite lived up to the $51 million that Matsuzaka got from the Boston Red Sox or the $48 million Fukodome received from the Chicago Cubs.  Therefore, I could still see Suzuki receiving the low end of the expected range, but any team willing to take a chance will offer more.

Not Financially Feasible

So ultimately, while Pirates GM Ben Cherington has a history of signing international players, the price tag will just be way too high for the Pirates.  I know fans hate to hear it, but they are not going to sign an unknown commodity at an average of $10+ million a year no matter how well he has played in the NBP.  There are not enough young and talented outfield free agents in this year's player pool to spread the wealth nearly enough to bring the Suzuki contract down to a reasonable number for the Pirates.  

While the Pirates front office do want to continue to prove to the fans they are interested in the success of this team, they still are not going to completely open the pocket books for a free agent. Instead, I believe they will continue talks to extend Bryan Reynolds and hope several of their protected outfield prospects develop into suitable major leaguers.