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Mariners 2022 Free Agent Target: OF Seiya Suzuki

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The best position player in Japan is coming stateside. Seattle appears interested, and they should be.

World Baseball Classic - Pool E- Game 6 - Israel v Japan Photo by Matt Roberts/Getty Images

The World Series has ended, which means we are mere days from the opening of free agency, the outset of the most important offseason in years for the Seattle Mariners. While the M’s have already linked themselves to a few free agents, including an interest in re-upping with former players like Tyler Anderson, James Paxton, and Kendall Graveman, as well as top-tier FA Marcus Semien and Kris Bryant, we are now privy to our first major rumor of connection for Seattle. A report from Yahoo! Japan states that star OF Seiya Suzuki will be posted by his club, the Hiroshima Carp, and that the Mariners are among six teams named as having shown interest. The report also states an expectation of Suzuki to command a baseline offer akin to what Cincinnati Reds OF Shogo Akiyama received, around three years for $21 million total, with the potential for more. If the Mariners are able to reel in Suzuki for such a deal, or even something more significant, it would be an exceptional addition that raises the club’s ceiling.

The 27-year-old is fresh off his sixth straight star-caliber campaign with Hiroshima, with his best season yet at the plate. The muscle-bound 5’11 righty clubbed the ball to the tune of .319/.436/.640 for his third season of an OPS >1.000 in NPB, and his sixth straight over .930. According to DeltaGraphs, a Japanese sabermetrics site dedicated to Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB), Suzuki was easily the most valuable position player in Japan, totaling 8.7 wins above replacement to well outpace Yuki Yanagita and Tomoya Mori, who both posted 7.0 WAR seasons. DeltaGraphs draws many inspirations and direct influence from FanGraphs, as savvy readers may have surmised, and by wRC+ Suzuki was also an absolute monster, eclipsing the 170 wRC+ mark this season. He walked 88 times to just 87 strikeouts in 535 plate appearances, a positive trend as he’s gotten more free passes than punchouts over his past three seasons as well. Despite his prudent approach, Suzuki clubbed 38 home runs in 2021, a career-high that is unsurprising from the Tyler O’Neill-esque Tokyoite.

If you’re unfamiliar entirely with Suzuki, Tom Mussa over at Prospects Live put together an excellent primer on what makes him so enticing, and I recommend giving it a read. For the gist, it’s stuff like this: a relatively simple, quick swing that’s helped him build one of the better track records for handling MLB-caliber velocity of any player attempting to transition from NPB to MLB.

The 96 mph fastball Suzuki turns on in the upper clip is over the plate, but it’s a 3-2 count, not simply a hitter’s count chance to gear up fully. Here he is eradicating a slider from Tomoyuki Sugano, one of the longstanding aces of NPB who was seen as one of the best pitching options in free agency last winter and may test the waters again himself.

Suzuki has checked the boxes in his career, putting up big moments for Japan’s national team and generally laying out a path of destruction for pitchers from all nations.

In a sense, articles encouraging the signing of a free agent from NPB or the KBO or any other major professional league might read redundantly. Yes, Seattle should look at this athletic 27-year-old outfielder, who has a plus arm and would likely offer above-average corner outfield defense and even handle himself in center. It’s a no-brainer, particularly as the M’s would be setting themselves up to add a possible star at the cost of merely money.

But what differentiates Suzuki is his relative youth and versatility of talent. Yahoo! Japan mentions Akiyama and Yoshi Tsutsugo as comparisons; however. Suzuki’s floor and ceiling surpasses both players. Akiyama is older, 32 in his first big league season, and lacking a track record of power, which has dogged him stateside as well. Tsutsugo was just a year older than Suzuki will be, yet his physique and profile are divergent. Though Suzuki is not a base-stealing savant, he runs well and has won four Gold Gloves in Japan (subjective as that may be). Tsutsugo is a more apt comp, as his power numbers were in line with Suzuki’s and the burly righty drew walks at an elevated clip. However, Tsutsugo struck out far more frequently in Japan, with over 100 or more whiffs every year from 2014-2019, peaking at 141 in 557 NPB plate appearances (25.3%) in 2019 ahead of being posted. Suzuki’s 16.2% strikeout rate in 2021 should be expected to rise, as Tsutsugo’s did in his move to MLB, but in starting from a more promising baseline of contact, there’s a significantly higher floor for Suzuki, especially when accounting for his capable defense opposed to Tsutsugo’s extreme limitations in the field. In a free agent pool of outfielders where Mark Canha is arguably the second-best primary option, Seattle could target a Canha-esque profile of high-OBP, good-power+contact, capable defense, without hopping on for the age-33 season and beyond of the erstwhile Oakland Athletic.

Seattle has a fascinating decision to make in upgrading the 2022 club. Mitch Haniger is one of their best players, a respected leader in the clubhouse, and entering his age-31 season without certainty on the club’s plans for him moving forward. Jarred Kelenic is obviously a central part of Seattle’s future plans, and was one of the team’s best hitters in September, but his miserable first few months cast a pall over his 2022 expectations, even as it would be easy to envision him picking up where he left off. Kyle Lewis has played like a star, or at least an above-average regular when healthy, but the organization has already made it clear they are not exactly counting on him to be healthy to start 2022. Julio Rodríguez will be on the 40-man roster and has had plenty of hype poured on at the possibility that he might break camp with the team, although he’ll likely suffer similar bumps and bruises as Kelenic did while adjusting to big-league pitching. Jake Fraley and Taylor Trammell are still in the picture. Should Seattle invest in another outfielder when so much of their success is wound up in three or four options already in the fold?

The answer, after one quick clip.

YES.

Holy smokes, y’all, the answer is yes. Do you remember Dylan Moore, full-time LF? Jake Bauers playing significant time? Stuff the 40-man roster with quality players and either make them outplay one another, trade for upgrades at other spots, or just enjoy having too many good players for a week and a half until someone gets hurt, my goodness. Sign Seiya Suzuki and upgrade the outfield immediately, maybe even dramatically.