After a brief meeting with Brewers’ owner Mark Attanasio, fans received a glimmer of off-season buzz. Attanasio hinted at Milwaukee staying busy during free agency. Making another financial push now would certainly mean the World Series is within sight.
Brewers Must Utilize Every Resource
While much still remains to be seen with what players enter the market, the Brewers should expand their search. In order to fully build the roster free agents, trades, and even international signings should be considered. The Nippon Professional Baseball League, or NPB for short, is the highest level of baseball in Japan. Players such as Shohei Ohtani, Seiya Suzuki, and Yoshi Hirano have all played in the NPB before coming to the MLB.
Japanese professionals have an urge to compete at the highest level. For some that is winning NPB championships and competing. For many, reaching the MLB is the only way to accomplish their goal. Shohei Ohtani, for example, only received interest from one NPB team because they knew he wanted to go to the MLB.
Japanese teams can post players before they are eligible for free agency. This means the team and player agree to allow MLB teams to negotiate a trade. The Brewers have done this before with Nori Aoki, who was posted by the Tokyo Swallows following a productive year. The NPB is on track to post some of their top players, and two in particular should be worth considering.
Introducing Masataka Yoshida
One of the premier hitters in Japan is outfielder and designated hitter, Masataka Yoshida. At 29-years old, Yoshida doesn’t have enough service time to become a free agent yet. Currently the Orix Buffaloes, whom Yoshida plays for, are considering posting him. They haven’t officially announced their decision or posted Yoshida yet.
— パ・リーグ.com / パーソル パ・リーグTV【公式】 (@PacificleagueTV) August 8, 2017
However, there is not much left for the outfielder to prove. Yoshida is currently career .325 hitter with 133 home runs and 467 runs batted in. Along with that, he also adds four straight Best Nine titles and two batting championships. The Best Nine title is given to the most valuable player at each position. The Orix Buffaloes have also been to the NPB championship two years in a row, winning it this year.
Masataka Yoshida has been so dominant that many MLB teams have expressed initial interest. The Phillies have been the team linked to Yoshida the most. Yoshida is a massive Bryce Harper fan, and he wears 34 in his honor. He also chose to name his dog Bryce as well. While the Phillies seem to be obvious favorites, if he is posted the Brewers should consider adding him.
Offense at a Bargain Price
His contract and career outlook in the MLB will likely be close to Seiya Suzuki. Suzuki signed a five year deal with the Chicago Cubs last off-season worth $85 million. Suzuki has also started every game he has played in the outfield and only recorded four errors in 106 games. Yoshida is a little bit older, and he is currently projected to receive four years, $56 million. Yoshida has proven to be more of a pure hitter but still has registered a .987 fielding percentage. The Brewers could consider Yoshida if he is posted because of his ability to drive in runs and get on base. He would be able to play the field everyday if needed but should find himself as a designated hitter on most teams.
Can the Brewers Resurrect Shintaro Fujinami’s Career?
Not everyone can dominate and move on to the MLB. Some players have the potential to have storied careers, but between struggles and injuries not everything can pan out perfectly. Shintaro Fujinami is the Japanese pitcher nobody has heard about.
Originally, Fujinami was drafted by four teams and considered to be the top pitching prospect beside Shohei Ohtani. In Japan, the first round draft picks are all submitted simultaneously. Any contested picks are sent to a lottery to decide who will earn the rights of that player. Losing players to the MLB is a real fear, however, and less teams will take a chance on players they expect to leave soon.
Fujinami didn’t have the same status as Ohtani. The subsequent play of each player since the draft has left their careers in two different positions. Fujinami has dealt with multiple different injuries to his throwing arm. After logging in an ERA of 4.17 as a starter across his first five years, Fujinami was moved to the bullpen. So far, the inning management has helped with his velocity and arm health. As a reliever, he has a career ERA of 3.45, with his best year coming in 2022. Fujinami finished the year with an ERA of 2.77 and 9.6 strikeouts per nine innings.
Can this Experiment Pay Off?
The Aoki experiment never fully worked for the Brewers. Milwaukee didn’t give up much to acquire Aoki, nor was there expectations that he would become a top level starter. However, he was a flash in the pan and didn’t last long in the MLB. If both Fujinami and Yoshida are posted by their NPB teams, the Brewers should consider trying out an international player again.
Fujinami doesn’t have experience as a reliever for any team to give him a huge contract. Fujinami wasn’t used in high-pressure situations and mainly served as a long reliever. Likely, Fujinami will receive a one or two year deal to showcase his 100 mph fastball and versatile arsenal. Due to his past injuries and statistics, Fujinami shouldn’t receive more than $8 million a year. For the price, it could prove to be a valuable financial experiment from the Brewers.
Meet Masataka Yoshida, one of the top baseball players in Japan and he wants to play for the Phillies. Named his dog after Bryce Harper 👀pic.twitter.com/HmatZwnn0z
— Paul C (@HurtsyIvania) November 1, 2022
On the other hand, Masataka Yoshida appears to be the more proven player. Not only has he accomplished a career’s worth of titles already, but Yoshida is a top NPB player. Much like Seiya Suzuki, a move to the MLB could allow Yoshida to make a significant contract. It would be much harder for the Brewers to convince themselves they need Yoshida because of his interest in the Phillies. Trying to get him to move to another team could prove costly, but would also allow the Brewers to add a great bat below market price.