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The Cubs are interested in Japanese outfielder Shogo Akiyama

Could the NPB star be an answer for the Cubs?

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Last month, BCB’s Josh Timmers wrote this article regarding Japanese outfielder Shogo Akiyama, who is an unrestricted free agent out of NPB and who might be an answer to the Cubs’ center field problem, given the fact that Albert Almora Jr. had a miserable 2019 and might never fulfill his No. 1 draft status promise.

Now, via Patrick Mooney at The Athletic, we learn that the Cubs might indeed be interested in Akiyama:

The Cubs have Japanese outfielder Shogo Akiyama on their radar as they explore ways to boost production from the leadoff spot and improve their up-the-middle defense.

Akiyama, who will turn 32 in April, is a left-handed hitter with a career .301 average for the Seibu Lions. Across the last five seasons in Japan’s Pacific League, his on-base percentages look like this: .419, .385, .398, .403 and .392.

A productive, two-way center fielder is a rare commodity in today’s game. Someone like Akiyama would allow the Cubs to diversify their lineup and move Jason Heyward back to right field, where he has won five Gold Gloves.

“Every year, you factor in all available avenues,” Epstein said when asked about the international market. “We’ll look and see if there’s a fit on that front as well.”

When Josh posted his article, I noted that Akiyama’s numbers and age look quite similar to Kosuke Fukudome’s when Fukudome came to the Cubs on a four-year, $48 million deal prior to the 2008 season.

But Fukudome had suffered a wrist injury that took away a lot of his power, and then the Cubs moved him to center field in 2009, a position he wasn’t good at. He eventually got traded to the Indians for two minor leaguers who never made it.

At the right price, Akiyama would be a good fit in center field and, as Mooney notes, allow the Cubs to move Heyward back to right field. This would be a much better free-agent idea than re-signing Nicholas Castellanos. Re-signing Castellanos would either leave the Cubs with a mediocre defensive outfield of Kyle Schwarber in left, Heyward in center and Castellanos in right, or trading Schwarber. Schwarber, at last, started to hit the last two months the way Cubs management had hoped he would, and perhaps he’s finally become that 40-homer guy everyone has been dreaming he’d become. He’s not a great left fielder, but he’s adequate enough in an outfield that would have good defensive players in right and center, if the Cubs do sign Akiyama.

This would also allow the Cubs to keep Almora as a fourth outfielder. He still plays good defense and though he’s not a fast baserunner, he’s a pretty smart baserunner who could be used as a defensive replacement and pinch-runner now that MLB is allowing one more position player on active rosters beginning in 2020. Truth be told, Almora was never quite the same last year after his foul ball hit that little girl in Houston. After a poor start in 2019, Almora had hit .299/.330/.570 (32-for-107) with seven home runs in his previous 31 games before that game in Houston. From then to season’s end: .215/.242/.328 (38-for-177) with five home runs. Perhaps a full offseason of physical and mental rest could help Almora become productive again.

What is the “right price” for Akiyama? Josh wrote:

The Cubs are one of four teams listed as having scouted Akiyama this past season. So they are interested. Seibu has made it clear that they want Akiyama back and have reportedly made an offer to him in the five-year, $23 million range. While the Cubs would clearly not want to hand Akiyama a five-year deal, a three-year deal in the $24 million range would be affordable. If Akiyama wants to play in MLB, he’s not going to argue about overall contract value. This is his last chance if he wants to test himself in MLB.

Three years and $24 million should definitely be in the “affordable” range for Theo & Co. It sounds like a reasonable thing to do, both financially and production-wise.

As always, we await further developments.


Should the Cubs sign Shogo Akiyama?

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