CINCINNATI -- The Reds are the lone team in the Major Leagues to never have had a Japanese-born player. That has a chance to change, possibly sooner than later.
An MLB.com source confirmed on Thursday that the Reds have been in talks with the agent for Japanese free-agent outfielder Shogo Akiyama. Nikkan Sports from Japan first reported that based on the club’s persistent interest, Cincinnati could be the most likely team to sign Akiyama.
A day later, however, it became clear that the Reds may not be alone in their pursuit. MLB Network insider Jon Heyman reported that the D-backs, Padres, Cubs and Jays have dipped their toes into the Akiyama waters with interest.
Akiyama, who turns 32 in April, is a .301 career hitter in nine seasons with the Seibu Lions. The left-handed hitter has averaged 23 homers over his last three years. He’s been a center fielder for Seibu but appears to project more as a corner outfielder in the Major Leagues.
In 2019, Akiyama batted .303/.392/.471 with 20 home runs. Because of his service time in Nippon Professional Baseball, he is not subject to the expensive posting rules that currently exist for many Japanese players that want to cross over to Major League Baseball.
President of baseball operations Dick Williams first confirmed the Reds’ interest in Akiyama during the Winter Meetings. Akiyama and his agency met with interested clubs during the meetings in San Diego and the Reds were believed to be one of the teams that saw him.
The Reds have been looking to add offense this offseason and have already added free-agent second baseman Mike Moustakas with a four-year deal worth $64 million. Williams and general manager Nick Krall have been in contact with representatives of multiple free agent outfielders, including Marcell Ozuna and Nicholas Castellanos. Another free agent they were rumored to have interest in, Kole Calhoun, signed earlier this week with Arizona.
Cincinnati currently has Nick Senzel slated to return as its regular center fielder, with Jesse Winker and Aristides Aquino as the corner outfielders. All three players have questions marks -- Senzel and Winker have endured injury issues, while Aquino is still lacking a track record following an uneven two months in the big leagues this past season.