Why the Mets should sign Japanese outfielder Shogo Akiyama

TOKYO, JAPAN - NOVEMBER 10: Outfielder Shogo Akiyama of Japan flies out in the seventh inning during the international friendly match between Japan and Mexico at the Tokyo Dome on November 10, 2016 in Tokyo, Japan. (Photo by Masterpress/Getty Images)
TOKYO, JAPAN - NOVEMBER 10: Outfielder Shogo Akiyama of Japan flies out in the seventh inning during the international friendly match between Japan and Mexico at the Tokyo Dome on November 10, 2016 in Tokyo, Japan. (Photo by Masterpress/Getty Images) /

Japanese outfielder Shogo Akiyama could help provide the New York Mets with outfield depth and could contend for a starting job in center field.

The 2019-2020 MLB offseason began a few weeks and thus far, a few big moves have been made. The New York Mets, however, have been quiet.

The Amazins are set to have a lot of players from last season returning to the team in 2020. Although, they do have several holes to fill, namely a new starting pitcher, relievers, and outfield depth. We should expect them to make a couple of moves this winter.

In regards to the outfield, I have a certain player in mind who I believe the Mets should pursue to round it out in 2020, and that player is the top free agent from Japan, Shogo Akiyama.

For those unfamiliar with Akiyama, he is a 31-year-old, left-handed outfielder from Yokosuka, Japan, who has spent the entirety of his nine-year career in the Japanese League as a member of the Saitama Seibu Lions. Over the course of his nine seasons in Japan, he is a career .301 hitter with a .376 OBP and in recent seasons, has been known as a power hitter, slugging 20 or more home runs in each of the past 3 seasons.

While there is always a hesitation to sign foreign players since they are a bit of a Wild Card in terms of how their game transitions to the MLB (see Kazuo Matsui for example), and despite the fact Akiyama is on the older side of his career, I think he is well worth looking into for the Mets.

In terms of athletic ability as a player, he is a very capable center fielder and as a hitter, has a good combination of speed and power, and has consistently hit for average throughout his career in Japan, which is a combination of traits any team would love to add.

Coming into the offseason, the Mets were in search of a natural center fielder, as the current options at the position are Michael Conforto and Brandon Nimmo, both of whom are limited defensively at the position, and the rest of the free agent market at the position is rather thin, so Akiyama could offer a good solution there.

More from Rising Apple

While on paper, the Mets appear to have a surplus of outfielders, their depth may not be as strong as you may think. Going into the season, the Mets’ in house options for the outfield are Conforto, Nimmo, Jeff McNeil, JD Davis, Dominic Smith and potentially Yoenis Cespedes if he is fully recovered from double heel surgery.

However, either McNeil or Davis is expected to be shifted down to the infield to man third base, Smith is likely to be traded this offseason and is only able to play left field, and Cespedes is admittedly a wild card for 2020 at this time, and as previously said, none of those players are natural center fielders.

If the Mets were to go this route and sign Akiyama, at worst he is a fourth outfielder as he transitions to the MLB, and at best, he finds himself in the starting lineup due to potential injury to another player, and since we’re talking about the Mets, is a likely probability.

While I’m not saying the Mets should break the bank to get him, if the price is fair, I feel that signing Shogo Akiyama is a gamble well worth taking and could help provide some stability in what in recent years has felt like a revolving door of an outfield, and if he performs well in his debut season, he could force his way into the Mets plan for 2021 and beyond.

As for what I believe a fair contract for Akiyama would be, I think it would behoove the Mets to take a page out of the Dodger’s playbook and use the same strategy LA did when they signed Japanese pitcher Kenta Maeda.

When Maeda first signed with the Dodgers prior to the 2016 season, it was for an eight-year $25 million contract, but it was highly incentivized, allowing him to potentially earn up to $106.2 million over the life of the contract or $13.3 million per year. The incentives were all performance-based and he would earn more money per year based on how many starts he made, innings pitched, All-Star selections, etc.

Since the Mets cannot predict how Akiyama will perform, an incentive-based contract would make a lot of sense, but on a shorter-term than Maeda, who was 28 when he joined LA, as opposed to Akiyama who will turn 32 in April.

My proposed contract would be four years $16 million as a base salary, which is a nice pay increase from the $1.8 million he made in Japan in 2019. Beyond that, he can earn an additional bonus based on his performance, such as games played, home runs, All-Star selection, etc., which should amount to roughly an additional $7 million per year.

If Akiyama achieves his full potential, the contract could be worth up to four years and $44 million. For the Mets, they would have an All-Star hitter starting in left field every day, and at worst, a fourth outfielder making $4 million a year is a very affordable price.

Next. What can we expect from Yoenis Cespedes in 2020?

Want your voice heard? Join the Rising Apple team!

Write for us!

With a thin market for center fielders and with the Mets in a win-now mode, signing Shogo Akiyama to something similar to my proposed contract is a gamble I think the Mets would be well worth taking.