The constant churn of the Pirates’ roster in 2021 produced a few performances of interest, none more so than that of infielder Yoshi Tsutsugo. Now, he’s officially back with the team on a one-year deal for '22, the team announced Monday. A source told MLB.com the agreement is worth $4 million.
First baseman Colin Moran, a non-tender candidate for the club, was designated for assignment in a corresponding move.
“We are excited to bring Yoshi back to Pittsburgh,” said Pirates GM Ben Cherington. “Yoshi brings an extensive track record of offensive performance with power to our lineup. He is a great teammate and an insightful player with a great understanding of the game. During his short time with us, Yoshi demonstrated a willingness to challenge himself to get better, a trait that will positively influence the younger players in our clubhouse.”
Tsutsugo, whom the Bucs signed to a Major League deal in August after he was released by the Dodgers, had a small-sample resurgence with his new club, providing instant power to a relatively small-ball style of team. With his long left-handed swing, he recorded an .883 OPS with eight doubles, a triple and eight homers in 43 games.
“Obviously going to the Minor Leagues [with the Dodgers], then the Pirates picking me up, being familiar with the owner, GM, staff, teammates, I’m really thankful for them,” Tsutsugo said through interpreter Brian Tobin. “Just spending this year with the Pittsburgh Pirates was a big experience for me.”
Tsutsugo owns a .209/.309/.388 slash line with 16 homers in 132 MLB games for his career. However, the Bucs are hopeful what they saw was not a flash, but the start of a return to form for a former Nippon Pro Baseball star who hit 205 homers in 968 games in Japan.
The main area of concern for Tsutsugo was his defense in the outfield. The Pirates tested him in right field following the release of Gregory Polanco, and Tsutsugo looked less polished there than his natural position at first base, where Cherington said the team preferred him to start looking toward 2022.
“We put him in an uncomfortable position in right field, a place he hadn't played a ton of,” manager Derek Shelton said on the final day of the regular season. “I think we saw growth there.”
There is still no clarity on whether the National League will implement a designated hitter in 2022, but Tsutsgo would make a strong case to fit that role, too.
But those questions aside, a low-cost signing of a potential power bat for a low-slugging team is something Pirates fans can be thankful for this Thanksgiving.
Tsutsugo’s signing as a first baseman led the club to designate Moran, who was part of the return in the Gerrit Cole trade with Houston in 2018. The left-handed hitter had his worst season in ‘21, when he posted a .724 OPS and -- during one of his longest stretches without injury that season -- finished the year batting .189 in September and October. Without the certainty of an NL DH in '22, Moran's fit on the team became weaker with Tsutsugo's return.
"We just didn't feel like we could commit to going through the arb process and commit to the roster right now with Colin," Cherington said. "I told him on the phone that we believe he's a good Major League baseball player and better than he showed last year, and we would want to keep the door cracked and see what happens later in the offseason. I'm sure he'll have other opportunities, too."