Blue Jays should explore a deal with Japanese star Masataka Yoshida

United States v Japan - Baseball Gold Medal Game - Olympics: Day 15
United States v Japan - Baseball Gold Medal Game - Olympics: Day 15 / Koji Watanabe/GettyImages
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Masataka Yoshida has power. He puts the ball in play. He’s patient at the plate. And he’s coming over to the Major Leagues.

The 29-year-old Yoshida will post on Wednesday and seek to begin his career in the big leagues after seven seasons with the reigning Japan Series champion Orix Buffaloes. MLB teams will then have until Jan. 20 to reach an agreement with the Japanese star or he'll return to Orix for 2023.

The Toronto Blue Jays, in need of some outfield help, should be one of the teams bidding to bring Yoshida across the Pacific. He does everything the Blue Jays need in an outfielder. Yoshida is a diminutive 5-foot-8, but he still hit 21 home runs in 2022 and led the Japan Pacific League with a 1.008 OPS. He’s hit as many as 29 homers in a season and four times eclipsed the 20-homer plateau.

He also has elite bat skills. Yoshida hit .335 last season, second in the league, and is batting .332 over the last five seasons. He also struck out just 41 times in 508 plate appearances. Yoshida is also left-handed and would be joining a Blue Jays lineup that bats predominantly from the right side.

There is some blueprint as to the size of the contract Yoshida will command. Seiya Suzuki, another star Japanese slugger, came over to the Majors last offseason and signed a five-year, $85 million deal with the Chicago Cubs. Suzuki was also two years younger than Yoshida. But in a thin outfield free agent market, a bidding war for Yoshida can increase his potential price tag.

Yoshida was remarkably productive in Japan. Yet he’s never seen the kind of pitching he’ll find in the Majors. Suzuki arrived with similar fanfare just a year ago but saw his production decline significantly; his OPS fell by more than 300 points and he hit just 14 home runs after slugging 38 with Hiroshima in 2021.

Yoshida is still worth a look for a team like the Blue Jays which has a need for a corner outfielder after trading Teoscar Hernandez earlier this offseason. The Blue Jays can slot Yoshida into their outfield rotation alongside George Springer and Lourdes Gurriel. Blue Jays left-fielders hit the fourth-fewest home runs in the Majors last season. They can use Yoshida's power. If they can’t trade for Bryan Reynolds or lure Brandon Nimmo to sign in Toronto, Yoshida is a compelling alternative.

The Blue Jays have signed just one player out of Japan. Shun Yamaguchi arrived in 2020 and lasted just one season before heading back home. It was a prime example of how talent in one league doesn’t always translate to another.

That experience, though, shouldn’t deter the Blue Jays from prying into the Japanese market once again. Yoshida has the skills to succeed at the big league level, and the Blue Jays are a perfect suitor.

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