The Masataka Yoshida era in Boston may be nearing a close.
A recent report from The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal and Jen McCaffrey indicates the Red Sox are looking to trade from their outfield surplus as they embark on a quest to shed payroll ahead of the 2024 season. And Yoshida could be one of the casualties.
It’s a rather puzzling turn of events for Boston, who inked the former NPB star to a five-year, $90 million contract last winter on the heels of losing shortstop Xander Bogaerts in free agency to the San Diego Padres. If the Red Sox are looking to stay competitive this coming season, trading one of their better hitters would be an unconventional approach.
Yoshida proved he could make a smooth transition to MLB with his bat, posting a .289/.338/.445 triple slash over 580 plate appearances in 2023, good for a 109 wRC+ and a solid .339 wOBA. He even provided a little pop, with 15 long balls to pair with his stellar bat-to-ball skills. But for as good as his bat looked, there were (and are) questions about his ability to hold up defensively.
The 30-year-old receives paltry grades for his glove work, where he’s essentially limited to left field. Ahead of the 2023 season, FanGraphs pegged his glove at 40 on the 20-80 scouting scale, which is below average. For comparison’s sake, Yoshida’s hit tool graded out at 70, which is elite.
The good news for the Boston Red Sox and first-year chief baseball officer Craig Breslow? There are a fair amount of potential suitors seeking lineup upgrades this winter. And as free agent options keep dwindling, these clubs might be willing to stomach Yoshida’s subpar defense to add an above-average bat to their rosters.
Five Potential Suitors for Masataka Yoshida
New York Mets
We’ve seen their name associated with other designated hitters on the open market this offseason, including Justin Turner and J.D. Martinez. Could they find a place for Masataka Yoshida?
The Mets need one more bat to solidify their 2024 lineup after learning Daniel Vogelbach wasn’t the answer to their designated hitter woes. They also wouldn’t need Yoshida to play the field, as they just inked Harrison Bader and traded for Tyrone Taylor to pair with Brandon Nimmo and Starling Marte on the outfield grass. Therefore, Yoshida would be a pure designated hitter for New York, which would certainly maximize his best tool (and therefore, his overall value).
Mets’ president of baseball operations David Stearns also appears to be prioritizing future years over 2024. Yoshida is under contract for four more seasons, fitting that timeline nicely. And as we well know, Steve Cohen can more than afford to eat a significant portion of the 30-year-old’s remaining deal, which would work in New York’s favor with respect to Boston’s return package.
The Mariners have had a bizarre offseason. From trading Eugenio Suárez, Jarred Kelenic and Robbie Ray to acquiring Luke Raley, Mitch Haniger, Anthony DeSclafani and signing Mitch Garver as a free agent, no one can seem to pinpoint Seattle’s strategy this winter.
What we do know, however, is that Mariners executive Jerry Dipoto loves to make a deal. In fact, he’s even made one with the Red Sox already this offseason, acquiring infielder Luis Urías in exchange for reliever Isaiah Campbell. So what’s another trade with Boston, right?
Seattle needs another bat, especially since they’ve now lost Teoscar Hernández and his 26 home runs from 2023. Therefore, Masataka Yoshida would be a great fit alongside J.P. Crawford, Julio Rodríguez, Ty France, Cal Raleigh and the aforementioned Garver in the Mariners’ lineup.
Perhaps Dipoto can dig into his bag of tricks (and pitching depth) once again, this time to reel in Yoshida from the Red Sox.
San Francisco Giants
How long have we been talking about the San Francisco Giants and their chronic desire to land a big-time bat?
Yes, the Giants nabbed KBO superstar Jung Hoo Lee this offseason, but like Masataka Yoshida last year, Lee will need to establish himself as a viable hitter against MLB pitching. That’s not to say Lee won’t do just that, but for now, this team is still in need of a true middle-of-the-order presence in their lineup.
To be clear, Yoshida isn’t Shohei Ohtani, Carlos Correa or Aaron Judge. However, he’s still better than what San Francisco has right now, especially after trading Mitch Haniger to the Seattle Mariners to acquire left-handed starter Robbie Ray.
The Giants are practically begging for players to take their money as well, so their willingness to spend should allow them to absorb a large chunk of Yoshida’s remaining money in a hypothetical trade.
If the Red Sox are looking for top-caliber prospects in a Masataka Yoshida deal, few teams can offer more of those than the Pittsburgh Pirates.
The Pirates have been rebuilding for years, but it’s fair to wonder if now is the time for them to start speeding up the process with many of their prospects advancing quickly through the minors. Pittsburgh has intriguing pieces at the big league level too, like Bryan Reynolds, Ke’Bryan Hayes, Henry Davis, and Jack Suwinski. The team is also expecting promising shortstop Oneil Cruz to return from injury in 2024.
So how would Yoshida fit? Perfectly as a designated hitter.
Andrew McCutchen is listed as the current DH, but he’s no more than a platoon option at this stage of his career. The lefty-batting Yoshida could grab most of the at-bats as a designated hitter while also sending a message that the Pirates are finally ready to usher in their next era of contention.
The Cubs entered the offseason with aspirations of landing premium free agent talent. So far, they’ve managed to sign Japanese left-hander Shota Imanaga, but even he is a tier below the players they were initially linked to.
Imanaga also fails to satisfy another pressing need for Chicago this offseason: a replacement for free agent Cody Bellinger.
Of course, the Cubs could simply decide to bite the bullet and re-sign Bellinger (a risky move given he’s due to regress in 2024). Or, they could look into trading for Masataka Yoshida as a contingency plan.
Yoshida wouldn’t replace all of Bellinger’s 2023 production, but he would be an adequate alternative. Not to mention, the former is also a left-handed hitter, which would ensure new manager Craig Counsell can maintain balance in his lineup.
An offseason headlined by the additions of Craig Counsell, Shota Imanaga and Masataka Yoshida wouldn’t be terrible by any means. Still, compared to the lofty expectations set at the beginning of free agency, it’s understandable if Chicago Cubs fans come away slightly disappointed with that haul.