The Rays have prioritized adding offense this offseason, and they hope to have found it in Japanese outfielder/infielder Yoshitomo Tsutsugo.
Tampa Bay on Monday announced it signed the 28-year-old Tsutsugo to a two-year, $12 million deal. The Rays will also have to pay Tsutsugo's former club, Yokohama, a 20 percent release fee, which will be approximately $2.4 million. The Rays will introduce Tsutsugo in a press conference set for Tuesday at Tropicana Field.
With Tsutsugo in the mix, the Rays fill a big need in the middle of the lineup. He has been one of the best power hitters over the course of his career in Japan. In 2016, Tsutsugo hit 44 home runs and finished with a 1.110 OPS in 133 games with Yokahama. His production hasn't slowed since; he posted a .899 OPS or higher in each of the last four seasons and a combined 139 home runs over that span. Tsutsugo also projects as a designated hitter option for the Rays next season, giving flexibility to the lineup.
But perhaps the most underrated -- and important -- part of Tsutsugo's game is his track record for posting strong on-base percentages. Through his career in Japan, he averaged a .382 on-base percentage. That's particularly important to the Rays after trading Tommy Pham, who led the team in OBP in 2019, to the Padres earlier this month.
Tampa Bay executives and manager Kevin Cash attended Tsutsugo’s workout during the Winter Meetings. During the workout, the Rays came away impressed with what they saw from the Japanese slugger. While his defense had been a question mark at times during his career in Japan, the Rays saw enough that gave them confidence that Tsutsugo will add to the team’s defensive versatility.
While Tsutsugo projects as a designated hitter, he can also play the corner-outfield spots -- primarily left field. He has also improved defensive at third base, giving the Rays a left-handed-hitting option at the position to split time with Yandy Díaz, who is the projected starting third baseman heading into next season. Tsutsugo could also play first base, if needed, but the Rays already have Ji-Man Choi and Nate Lowe as left-handed-hitting first basemen.
In his first year in the Majors, Tsutsugo will have to handle some unique challenges. He impressed with his ability to hit the ball hard in Japan, but now the question will be if that power will translate to the Major League level. Also, like all Japanese players who make the transition to the United States, Tsutsugo will also deal with adjusting to life off the field.
It’s also worth noting that Tsutsugo had other offers from clubs, but the slugger decided to take less money in order to sign with the Rays.
Adding Tsutsugo helps the Rays fill a need as they continue to search for more offense. But now general manager Erik Neander will be tasked with the challenge of making the lineup more balanced by adding right-handed-hitting help.
With Avisaíl García, Guillermo Heredia, Matt Duffy and Jesús Aguilar no longer on the roster, the Rays are left with Willy Adames, Hunter Renfroe, Mike Zunino and Díaz as the club’s only impact right-handed hitters. Daniel Robertson and Mike Brosseau are solid in-house options, but the Rays will continue to look for right-handed hitting help via trade or free agency.
With Tsutsugo's deal finalized, the Rays have at least one player from the United States, Japan, the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Cuba, Venezuela, Colombia, the Bahamas and South Korea on their 40-man roster.