Pittsburgh Pirates Need to Re-Sign Yoshi Tsutsugo
By Noah Wright
Now a free agent, the Pittsburgh Pirates need to heavily pursue a re-signing of Japaneese slugger Yoshi Tstusugo.
The Pittsburgh Pirates most notable free agent looks to be corner infielder/corner outfielder Yoshi Tsutsugo. The Bucs picked up the left-handed slugger on a minor league deal after being released by the Los Angeles Dodgers back in mid-August. Though the Pirates need to try as hard as they can to re-sign him.
Tsutsugo came out of the NPB as one of Japan’s biggest sluggers. He slugged 140 home runs across his final 4 seasons, averaging about 36 long balls across 600 plate appearances. So when the Rays signed him to a two-year deal during the 2019-2020 offseason, they were hoping to get a good power bat for the infield corners who could play both left and right field on occasion.
His first season over in the states didn’t go as well as the Rays would have hoped. He hit .197/.314/.395 with a .309 wOBA, and 99 wRC+. While he did show some decent pop with 8 homers in just 185 plate appearances and a .197 isolated slugging percentage while having an outstanding 14% walk rate, Tsutsugo wasn’t good for much else besides a walk and a home run. While he mainly spent his time at DH, he also saw time at both third base and left field where he graded out as an average (in left field) to well below average (at third) as a defender.
Tsutsugo entered the 2021 season with a similar role: to provide a good platoon bat for the Rays. But after struggling to just a.462 OPS with the Rays, he was eventually traded to the Dodgers for a PTBNL. Tsutsugo only would step to the plate 31 plate appearances in a Dodger uniform before being outrighted to Triple-A. While he would go on to have a very solid, albeit, short-run with the Dodgers’ affiliate, he would eventually be released, and that’s when the Pittsburgh Pirates picked him up.
The deal was very overlooked at the time. After all, it looked like nothing more than a depth move. However, Tsutsugo quickly made his presence known. Throughout his 144 plate appearances with the Pirates, Tstusugo hit .268/.347/.535 with 8 home runs. The left-handed slugger ended up with a .372 wOBA, and 135 wRC+.
However, the Pittsburgh Pirates need to heavily pursue a possible resigning of Tsutsugo. The contract he signed back with the Rays is now up, so he’ll hit the open market. If the Pirates were to resign him, he’d likely play most of his time at DH and first base. Maybe occasionally left and right field when needed to.
Currently the Pittsburgh Pirates are lined up to have Colin Moran start at first base. After showing good power potential in the shortened 2020 season, Moran would only go on to hit .258/.334/.390 with a .318 wOBA, and 98 wRC+. Any power he showed in 2021 did not show up in 2021. He saw his isolated slugging percentage dip to a career-low .132 mark. Plus he only had 10 home runs in 359 plate appearances, his lowest home run total in at least 300 plate appearances. Heck, he hit 10 in 2020 in just 200 trips to the plate.
Looking at the minor leagues, they also don’t need to sign someone long-term for first base or DH. With Mason Martin being promoted to Triple-A at the end of the 2021 minor league season, he’ll probably get a shot with the major league club sometime in early-2022. The Pirates could land Tsutsugo on a two-year deal, maybe one year plus one option year, to help the 1B/DH situation until Martin is in the majors.
He’ll also provide a solid power bat to the line-up. While Martin and Oneil Cruz will likely get an extended look in the majors, Tsutsugo could also help add more thump to a roster that ranked last in home runs, isolated slugging percentage, and slugging percentage.
Now I know what some of you may be thinking. Why would he want to sign with a team that just lost 101 games? Won’t he have offers from other teams that performed better this year? Well possibly, but I think it’s reasonable to say that the Pirates will see a vast amount of improvement next year.
I already said that Cruz and Martin will likely get extended looks in the major leagues next year, but so will highly touted prospects Travis Swaggerty, Roansy Contreras, and Miguel Yajure. They’ll also likely get help from Omar Cruz and Matthew Fraizer. Later in the year, the likes of Carmen Mlodzinski, Tucupita Marcano, Ji-Hwan Bae, Canaan Smith-Njigba, and Cal Mitchell. While promoting some of their top prospects (especially the likes of Oneil Cruz, Contreras, Swaggerty, and Martin) will show that they’re serious about competing within the next year or so, signing a potential middle of the order bat will further drive home that sentiment.
The Pittsburgh Pirates need to add some pop to the line-up and a good bridge to Mason Martin. Bringing back Yoshi Tsutsugo solves both issues. While he (obviously) shouldn’t be the only free agent they pursue, he should be the one they pursue the heaviest.