Rays trade IF/OF Tsutsugo to Dodgers

May 16th, 2021

After designating for assignment on Tuesday, the Rays dealt him to the Dodgers on Saturday night.

Officially, the Rays traded Tsutsugo to the Dodgers for cash considerations or a player to be named. Los Angeles will pay Tsutsugo a prorated portion of the league minimum salary and provide Tampa Bay with some relief for the remainder of Tsutsugo’s salary, but the Rays are still on the hook for most of what Tsutsugo is owed.

The Rays decided to remove Tsutsugo from their roster on Tuesday, clearing the way for the return of first baseman Ji-Man Choi, which took place when Choi was reinstated from the 10-day injured list on Saturday.

The same day they reportedly agreed to sign future Hall of Famer Albert Pujols, the Dodgers jumped at the chance to acquire Tsutsugo before he cleared waivers. If he had cleared, Tsutsugo could have become a free agent and signed with any other team, or he could have remained in the Rays organization and accepted an assignment to Triple-A Durham.

The Rays signed the Japanese slugger to a two-year, $12 million deal in December 2019, hoping he would bring his powerful bat to their lineup after starring for the Nippon Professional Baseball League’s Yokohama BayStars, but Tsutsugo never settled in at the plate and struggled to handle high-octane, Major League fastballs.

Tsutsugo hit .197/.314/.395 with eight homers and 24 RBIs in 51 games last season. It was a disappointing year, but one that could easily be excused in part by the challenges associated with making the cultural transition from Japan to the United States -- plus a whole separate set of issues that came along with making his delayed Major League debut amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Tampa Bay tried to instill confidence in the 29-year-old Tsutsugo this spring, trusting him as the club’s primary left-handed-hitting first baseman in Choi’s injury-related absence and thrusting him into the leadoff spot to begin the season. But Tsutsugo’s performance only declined, as he hit .167/.244/.218 with 27 strikeouts in 87 plate appearances, and his playing time decreased accordingly.