The Toronto Blue Jays have made it known they head into the off-season with starting pitching at the top of their priority list, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t other areas to address.
First base is a position where they have one player whose production isn’t starter-quality in Rowdy Tellez, and another who’s a free agent in Justin Smoak. The outfield continues to face uncertainty as well, and while the position-player core is promising, this team is a bat or two from being a truly fearsome lineup.
While the free-agent pool is arguably on the thin side, a new player entered the fray on Monday who could be exactly what the doctor ordered for the Blue Jays: Japanese slugger Yoshitomo Tsutsugo.
The Yokohama Baystars announced they were posting Tsutsugo, immediately making him one of the most interesting players available. While it’s easy to dream on the potential of international stars, the 27-year-old appears to be the real deal. In a down year last season he hit .272/.388/.511 with 29 home runs. Those numbers might not jump off the page, but his OPS of .899 ranked sixth in the NPO while his long ball total ranked eighth. The slugger has hit as many as 44 home runs in a season and in his career year of 2016 he slashed a ridiculous .322/.430/.680.
It’s unfair to project Tsutsugo to be a star, but it’s also hard to ignore how neatly he meshes with the Blue Jays’ needs. General manager Ross Atkins has spoken about his ideal scenario of having a first baseman who can also play other positions and Tsutsugo has been a first baseman, third baseman, and outfielder in Japan. He’s primarily been an outfielder of late, but his work doesn’t grade especially well there, making it possible to envision him as a guy who is a first baseman/DH who can fill in elsewhere as needed.
He is also youthful enough (Tsutsugo turns 28 in November) that his suitors don’t have to fear imminent decline and a longer-term commitment is justified. Even if the Blue Jays don’t feel like they’ll be competing in 2020, grabbing Tsutsugo could be a matter of seizing an unusual opportunity to help position themselves for their window. Signing him a year before they “need” him would also help Tsutsugo make an MLB transition in a relatively low-pressure environment.
When it comes to position players, the Blue Jays need first basemen and outfielders and have expressed an interest in versatility. Cavan Biggio is their only prominent left-handed hitter, so a bat from the left side would be helpful. They’d also be wise to invest in players young enough to complement their core. Tsutsugo checks a lot of boxes for them.
That’s no guarantee he’d be a success. The bust potential is there considering the swing-and-miss in his game and his unspectacular athleticism. He’s also a guy whose swing draws comparisons to Bryce Harper who’s capable of hitting the ball like this, though.
For extra bonus points, Tsutsugo seems to have a progressive streak as he’s advocated for less arduous pitching workloads for youth baseball players in Japan.
It’s possible that Tsutsugo wouldn’t consider the Blue Jays either for geographical reasons or their competitive situation, but if the slugger is open to a pitch the club should have one ready.
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