Suzuki signing brings excitement to Cubs’ clubhouse

March 19th, 2022

MESA, Ariz. -- With more than four dozen media members packed into a press conference room at the Cubs complex on Friday morning, the star of the gathering leaned forward to the microphone in front of him and flashed a smile.

“Hello, my name is Seiya Suzuki,” he said. “Nice to meet you.”

And with that, the Cubs introduced one of the biggest signings in the club’s history, and the most significant free-agent deal handed out since president of baseball operations Jed Hoyer took charge of the front office two offseasons ago. The North Siders officially announced their five-year, $85 million pact with the Japanese slugger, who will have a home in the heart of the order and in right field.

The Cubs have had their eyes on Suzuki for years, as he tormented pitchers in the Nippon Professional Baseball league for the Hiroshima Toyo Carp. This offseason, when he was up for grabs as a free agent, Chicago was aggressive in its pursuit, culminating in a face-to-face dinner in Los Angeles earlier this week.

For the Cubs, the belief is that Suzuki fits within the approach of trying to compete now, while keeping an eye on the future.

“We've talked a lot about building the next great Cubs team,” Hoyer said. “We signed Seiya to a five-year contract, because we believe he'll play a significant role in that success now and that success in the future."

Following his introductory press conference, which lasted a half-hour and included him firing off a few one-liners that had his audience laughing, Suzuki jumped right into Chicago’s afternoon workout. He went through baserunning and defensive work, launched a series of batting-practice homers at Sloan Park and faced a couple of pitchers in live BP.

With his translator, Toy Matsushita, at his side throughout the day, Suzuki engaged in conversations with his new teammates. Inside the clubhouse before the workout, he went around and shook hands. That included veteran starter Kyle Hendricks, who had a neighboring locker to Suzuki’s right.

"I'm super excited," Hendricks said. "I've just seen some video and heard some things on him. I haven't seen a whole lot. But obviously, I'll be very excited to see that up close and personal."

The contract with Suzuki includes a posting fee due to his former club in Japan, the Hiroshima Toyo Carp. That cost ($14.625 million) brings the deal to $99.625 million, making it the largest deal given to a Japanese position player in history and the fifth-largest contract ever handed out by the Cubs.

A Chicago contingent, which included team chairman Tom Ricketts, met with Suzuki's camp Monday. That followed reports of Suzuki working out in San Diego for the Padres and having dinner with Yu Darvish and his family. Darvish, of course, could also have shared his experience of playing for the Cubs. Suzuki then took a trip to Chicago on Wednesday to see Wrigley Field and explore the city.

“It became clear to me,” said Suzuki's agent, Joel Wolfe, “that what was most important to Seiya was not getting the biggest contract. It was being in the place that he felt he was going to be the most comfortable.”

The signing follows the addition of free-agent starter Marcus Stroman via a three-year, $71 million contract over the offseason. Those deals, combined with the wave of short-term pacts with veteran players still piling up as Opening Day looms, put Hoyer’s approach on display.

"We're going to make moves to compete," Hoyer said at the start of Spring Training. "But certainly we're not going to do things that are inconsistent with what we've done over the last 16 months."

Hoyer was referencing the wave of subtractions dating back to the 2020-21 offseason. Since that point, the likes of Darvish (trade), Kris Bryant (trade), Anthony Rizzo (trade), Javier Báez (trade), Craig Kimbrel (trade), Jon Lester (free agency) and Kyle Schwarber (non-tender), among others, found themselves in new uniforms.

The result has been a pile of prospects who have helped restore the lower-rungs of what had been a depleted Cubs farm system and greater financial flexibility at the MLB level. Hoyer's aim now is to bridge the gap to “the next great Cubs team” with a competitive group for David Ross to manage.

Suzuki is now officially part of that vision.

“They’re really a very good team,” Suzuki said through his translator. “Just their passion to get me on this team was something that really took me by heart. So, obviously I’m just very excited to be here.”

At 27 years old, Suzuki is in prime years for production for a Cubs team that hopes to move on from last summer's 91-loss, Trade Deadline-impacted season. The length of his contract also locks him in for a period in which some of the Cubs' highly touted prospects should begin reaching the Majors.

Suzuki is a five-time NPB All-Star who hit a .317/.433/.636 slash line last season with 38 homers, 26 doubles, 88 RBIs and nearly as many walks (88) as strikeouts (89).

Across the 2018-21 seasons in Japan, Suzuki had 122 homers and 351 walks vs. 359 strikeouts in 517 games. He showed off his speed in 2019 with 25 stolen bases and took home MVP honors at the WBSC Premier12 tournament that same year.

*“I’m glad he chose us,” Ross said. “I think he really is looking forward to being in the States, playing Major League Baseball and being a part of the Cubs.” *