Japanese all-star outfielder Seiya Suzuki is free to sign with MLB teams. Is he a fit for the Detroit Tigers?
We are still in the midst of Contender November here at Motor City Bengals, a full month of articles about how the Detroit Tigers can become contenders in 2022. We have focused mostly on shortstops and starting pitchers so far, but we’ve also checked in on outfielders like Michael Conforto and Starling Marte.
Outfield generally isn’t viewed as one of the bigger needs for the Tigers right now, and Al Avila essentially said as much in his season-ending press conference:
The Detroit Tigers aren’t a common destination for Pacific Rim talent, either, but Seiya Suzuki is one of the most interesting free agents on the market, so let’s take a look at who he is and what he might be able to do in Major League Baseball.
Who is Seiya Suzuki?
Seiya Suzuki was drafted by the Hiroshima Carp in the 2nd round of the the same 2012 Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB) Draft that saw Shohei Ohtani go first overall. Suzuki was drafted as a pitcher, but he spent most of his first two seasons in pro ball splitting time between the outfield and the left side of the infield.
Suzuki made his official NPB debut in 2013 at just 18, but he spent most of that season and 2014 in the Japan Western League, which is the NPB version of the minors. In 2015 Suzuki moved to the outfield permanently and spent his first full year in the Japan Central League, batting .275 with 5 home runs in 211 at-bats over 99 games.
The 2016 season was a huge breakout campaign for the then 21-year-old Suzuki, and he’s been stellar every year since:
That’s remarkable offensive production and consistency, regardless of the level of competition. Suzuki has also won multiple Golden Glove awards, has a very strong arm, and is considered a fairly well-rounded player, but he’s mostly know for his power:
Seiya Suzuki has played a bit of international ball, going just 3-for-14 in the 2017 World Baseball Classic and 3-for-18 in the 2020 Summer Olympics, but earning MVP honors in the 2019 WBSC Premier12 tournament after batting .444/.529/1.037 over 8 games.
There’s always plenty of risk when it comes to signing free agents from foreign leagues, and while no one expects Seiya Suzuki to be the next Ohtani, no one expects him to be Yoshi Tsutsugo either. FanGraphs’ ZiPS projections envision him hitting .281/.350/.469 in 2022, which is roughly equivalent to what Randy Arozarena did (.274/.356/.459) on the way to winning AL Rookie of the Year.
What Would Seiya Suzuki do for the Detroit Tigers?
The Tigers have bodies for their outfield right, but they don’t necessarily have any entrenched starters for the future. Robbie Grossman was very good in 2021, but he’s 32 and only signed for one more year.
Akil Baddoo was a sensation last season, and he has a world of talent, but it’s too soon to know if he will continue to get better — his 2021 stats look remarkably similar to the rookie numbers of the recently departed Niko Goodrum. Riley Greene could be a star, but he still has to prove it at the MLB level, and Daz Cameron and Derek Hill both look more like platoon players than regulars.
And no one on Detroit’s current 40-man roster is a prototypical right fielder. Seiya Suzuki could step into right immediately and provide 20+ home runs, strong on-base skills, and the kind of powerful arm that makes runners think twice before taking an extra base.
The Cost of Seiya Suzuki
Seiya Suzuki doesn’t turn 28 until next August, and he’s a prototypical right fielder with a career .315/.415/.571 batting line and 182 home runs in 901 games. A few years ago, a 27-year-old right fielder with a career .279/.388/.512 batting line and 184 home runs in 927 games hit the free agent market and signed a 13-year, $330-million deal.
The NPB is not MLB, and Seiya Suzuki isn’t Bryce Harper, but he is expected to get a pretty solid contract. MLB Trade Rumors projects him to land a 5-year, $55-million deal. That seems like a reasonable price, though the team that ultimately signs Suzuki will also have to send another $10 million or so in the form of a posting fee to the Hiroshima Carp.
The Detroit Tigers could certainly use a player like Seiya Suzuki over the next few years, and he enough upside to potentially be a nice bargain. But the Tigers seem laser focused on pitching and shortstops right now, and it doesn’t seem likely they’ll change course to get involved with a Japanese outfielder who is almost certain to sign a contract in the next 10 days.