If we think back to what the Boston Red Sox were missing last year, what was the top thing? A bat and one that with great on-base skills who also happens to be a good defender in the outfield. Well that and healthy pitching. The Red Sox got just that with their recent 2023 free agent signing of Japanese outfielder Masataka Yoshida. The outfielder was inked to a five-year, $85-million deal with Boston. What is Yoshida’s fantasy baseball value in 2023? What does Yoshida’s signing mean for the Red Sox? And does this change the market for Kodai Senga, the other highly-touted Japanese bat on the market? Let’s dig in.
What is Masataka Yoshida’s 2023 Fantasy Baseball Value?
First things first, we have to expect him to struggle a bit a times. Just look back at what we saw from Seiya Suzuki in Chicago a year ago. That being said, at his best he’s a very efficient hitter. In seven years in the NPB he combined for a slash line of .327/.421/.539 with a .960 OPS and just 300 strikeouts in 762 game (3,189 PA and 2,703 AB) with 421 walks. There’s not elite speed, just 21 steals in the seven seasons, but it’s enough to get a handful of steals a year in the majors. Everyone wants to focus on power so let's touch on that. He’s hit for 20 or more homers in four of the last five years in the NPB with the lone exception being 2020. All told he hit 133 home runs in the 762 games. If, and this is a big if and not a great way of extrapolating data, he can hold that pace, that works out to 28 home runs in a 162-game MLB season with four steals with his runs tallying 88 and 99 RBI. The runs probably stay about there while the RBI drop given that he’ll be the likely leadoff hitter for Boston rather than a middle-of-the-order bat like he was for the Orix Buffaloes. Yoshida is a left-handed hitter so the dimensions of Fenway Park as well as most of the rest of the AL East plays into his natural swing direction for power. The biggest adjustment he’ll need to make is getting used to the velocity and spin of MLB pitchers since pitchers stateside throw harder, on average, with more movement and spin than those in the NPB. His value in fantasy baseball of 2023 is that of an OF3 who can help with your average and/or on-base stats while providing 20 or so home runs.
How does Masataka Yoshida’s Signing Impact the Boston Red Sox?
Last year, the Red Sox missed a true leadoff hitter who could set the table for the 2-3-4 hitters in the lineup. They especially missed that in the outfield. While Boston had a .321 team OBP last year, good for sixth in the league, their outfield combined for a .307 mark which was 19th in the league. Slugging was even worse for the Red Sox outfield, ranking 21st in the league. Sure, injuries and slow starts all played a role in them finishing around league-average in wOBA, wRC+, fWAR, and BB%. The Yoshida signing should help that though. He immediately comes in as the leadoff hitter and a guy who’s made a career out of walking, harken back to the .421 OBP in seven NPB seasons. That will help set the table for the rest of the Red Sox lineup, whether or not they sign Xander Bogaerts back or not. Think of Yoshida as a table-setting type like a healthy Brandon Nimmo. There may not be a ton of power but enough to do decent damage but the real value is getting on base and scoring a lot of runs. Defensively he should be just fine in left field for Boston with Alex Verdugo slotting in in right field and Enriquez Hernandez playing center field. The only concern with the signing is Boston will now have six lefty bats in a starting lineup which could make them a tad susceptible to lefty relievers on to face three straight batters or lefty starters getting the jump on them early in games.
How does Masataka Yoshida’s Signing Impact Kodai Senga and Other Outfielders?
The signing of Masataka Yoshida at $85 million is the largest value contract ever given to a Japanese position player. Combined with the posting fee ($15 million) and some other contract monies it amounts to a $105-million investment for Boston. While everyone expected Kodai Senga to be the first Japanese player to be signed, this actually helps his negotiating stance given he’s been an ace for 11 seasons in the NPB and frontline starters are in high demand this offseason. Being a pitcher does change the market a tad for Senga, but having a benchmark of what a similarly aged and hyped countryman got can only help him. As for other outfielders still on the open market, this also helps them quite a bit. It was reported that three AL East teams were in on Yoshida, among others, with Toronto and New York also wanting his services. With them missing out, expect players like Brandon Nimmo, Andrew Benintendi, and even Michael Brantley and A.J. Pollock to be targets of those teams who wanted a professional type hitter who gets on base. Of those, clearly Nimmo benefits the most as his salary probably comes closest to, or exceeds, the AAV of Yoshida’s deal.
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