The Philadelphia Phillies will seemingly have plenty of time to reset and refocus their offseason plans during the owner-imposed lockout, and decide how they want to proceed in left field.
Kyle Schwarber, Michael Conforto and Nick Castellanos are all intriguing free-agent options, and the guess it that one of those three will be standing in left field on March 31 when the Phillies open their 2022 season in Houston.
However, a fourth option — Japanese star Seiya Suzuki — should very much be someone that Dave Dombrowski and the Phillies consider in their quest to find a new left fielder.
The 27-year-old has been a star for the Hiroshima Carp in Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball, and was posted by the team last month, giving MLB teams the chance to bid on his services for 30 days. Like all other major league free-agent signings, the posting system is currently frozen as part of the owner-imposed lockout. Suzuki will have 20 days following the conclusion of the owner-imposed lockout — whenever that may be — to reach a pact with an MLB team, or he will return to Hiroshima.
While it is possible that if the owner-imposed lockout drags on that Suzuki will take the certainty of returning to Japan for the 2022 season, Sean McAdam of The Boston Sports Journal reported this past weekend that the Boston Red Sox, Toronto Blue Jays and New York Yankees “have been the most aggressive in pursuit” of the outfielder. That suggests that there’s enough interest in Suzuki for him to be comfortable waiting through the owner-imposed lockout because he knows a lucrative MLB contract will be on the other side of the rainbow.
It’s perplexing then that the Phillies haven’t been linked to the star outfielder. Over the past three seasons, Suzuki has homered 91 times, driven in 250 runs and walked 262 times. Suzuki is coming off a season where he hit .317, and Tom Mussa of Prospects Live suggests that he’s someone willing to work counts and use his “beautiful” swing to make an impact.
In a left fielder, the Phillies are either looking for someone capable of leading off or serving as lineup protection behind reigning National League MVP Bryce Harper in the lineup. Suzuki would probably be more of a fit to fill the latter, though he has a .409 on-base percentage over nine seasons in Japan, so he may be someone like Schwarber that could work in either role.
After the All-Star Break — especially once Rhys Hoskins was lost for the season in late-August — the Phillies really struggled to find anyone capable of carrying them for a few days beyond Harper. Harper won’t always be hot, and when he is, teams will be more inclined to pitch around him. Suzuki is the type of hitter that may be capable of carrying the lineup for stretches, like he did this past September in Hiroshima when he hit eight home runs in six games:
And while he’d need to move to left field with the aforementioned Harper in right field, the four-time NPB Gold Glove Award winner’s arm would seemingly play in either corner:
It’s possible that the Phillies feel that given the current state of their roster — where every core player is at or around 30 years old — a player with an established track record in MLB would be a better fit for them.
At the same time, one of the reasons that the Phillies playoff drought currently sits at 10 years is that they fell woefully behind in terms of identifying and landing impact international talents on a consistent basis. Signing Suzuki wouldn’t be finding a hidden gem — like when the Washington Nationals signed Juan Soto as a teenager — but successfully luring a coveted international star would be an important step for the organization.
It is true that the Phillies don’t exactly have a geographical advantage. Many Japanese stars that have come to MLB — Hideo Nomo, Ichiro Suzuki and Shohei Ohtani, among others — have gravitated towards West Coast teams, because they are closer to their home country. Others have gone to the Yankees, in part because, well, they are the Yankees. But the Yankees also have a long track record of employing Japanese stars, such as Hideki Matsui, Ichiro and Masahiro Tanaka.
But money can change minds, and the guess here is that the five-year/$55 million deal that MLB Trade Rumors has projected that Suzuki will land could look like a bargain in a few years. With that in mind, the Phillies would be wise to at least court Suzuki once the owner-imposed lockout concludes.
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