Checking Boxes: What the Rays still need after signing Yoshitomo Tsutsugo
By Seth Carter
The Rays have checked a couple of boxes by signing Japanese left-handed slugger, Yoshitomo Tsutsugo. What is the most pressing need GM, Erik Neander must address now?
Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times reported on Monday afternoon the Tampa Bay Rays signed a two-year, $12 million pact with Japanese left-handed slugger Yoshitomo Tsutsugo.
Of the Rays many needs this offseason, Tsutsugo checks a few boxes. He has been one of the best hitters in Japan the past few years. His peak year came in 2016 when he blasted 44 home runs and finished with a 1.110 OPS over 133 contests. His career OBP is .382.
The Rays recently traded on-base stud, Tommy Pham to the Padres for a prized prospect and Hunter Renfroe. While Renfroe brings more power and defense, he is a significant downgrade in on-base ability, logging a career .294 OBP.
Tsutsugo has displayed incredible patience and an explosive all-fields swing in Japan. The Rays are confident enough in what they’ve seen they’ve made him the fourth-highest paid player on the 2020 roster thus far.
What they still need
While he checks the boxes as an on-base, power, and a versatile defender, the Rays still have needs.
On November 25, Juan Toribio of MLB.com provided a shortlist of items the Rays needed to address this offseason.
- Right-handed bat
At Catcher, the Rays saw Travis d’Arnaud sign with the Braves in free agency. They responded by avoiding arbitration returning backstop, Mike Zunino. Zunino is an elite defender but has only hit above .200 four out of his seven Major League seasons. Last season Zunino finished with a .165/.232/312 slash line.
Backup catcher, Michael Perez has shown promise in the Minors, but the combination of Zunino/Perez is a risk. It’s likely the Rays are still in the market for a veteran catcher to share the load if Zunino is unable to bounce back at the plate in 2020.
While Tsutsugo adds a great offensive threat to the middle of the lineup, the Rays are sorely lacking in right-handed bats. Avisail Garcia remains linked to talks of re-joining the Rays in 2020.
With Tsutsugo’s versatility, and the infield depth in Joey Wendle, Daniel Robertson, Brandon Lowe, Nate Lowe, Ji-Man Choi, Yandy Diaz, and now Tsutsugo, it seems that a corner outfielder might be a good fit.
The Rays were already short on right-handed hitters last season and have since parted ways with Matt Duffy, Travis d’Arnaud, Guillermo Heredia, Jesus Aguilar, and Avisail Garcia, all right-handed. The primary remaining right-handed threats are as follows:
- Mike Zunino
- Willy Adames
- Yandy Diaz
- Daniel Robertson
- Mike Brosseau
The Rays are likely to address this via corner outfielder or at the catcher position. Austin has some great ideas for how the Rays could go about acquiring either a corner outfielder or a slugging catcher here.
Tampa Bay led all of the Major Leagues in bullpen ERA (3.66) and relief innings pitched (772.0), but they are still in the market to improve. The Rays will be on the lookout for a veteran reliever to fit in with the outstanding core young arms in the pen.
If Jose Alvarado is unable to bounce back from his 4.80 ERA last season and find the form that led him to an outstanding 2018, then Emilio Pagán, Nick Anderson and Diego Castillo could use a little help in high-leverage situations.
While the bullpen may not be the most pressing matter, the Rays are still hoping to find a veteran arm to add to the mix.
Austin has some ideas on how to address the three needs, including a veteran bullpen piece in the next article.
Do you think Yoshitomo Tsutsugo’s outstanding skills will translate at the Major League level? What is the most pressing need now that we’ve added the Japanese slugger? Let us know in the comments below!