Posted on December 30, 2019, by Bryan Zarpentine
The Cincinnati Reds have been busy this offseason, and on Monday, they dipped into the international market for their latest addition. The Reds have agreed to terms with Japanese outfielder Shogo Akiyama on a three-year deal worth $21 million. Akiyama will get his shot in the majors after playing the last nine seasons with the Seibu Lions in Japan.
There were reportedly several teams with interest in signing Akiyama, including, the Cubs, Diamondbacks, and Padres. He has been one of the most sought-after players to be posted by Japanese teams this offseason. While he’ll turn 32 in April and is already deep into his career, Akiyama projects as an everyday player in the big leagues and shouldn’t have too much trouble making the transition to the majors.
Akiyama is a left-handed hitter but a right-handed thrower. He’s been named an all-star in Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball in each of the last five seasons, possessing an intriguing blend of speed and power. Akiyama has posted an OPS of .895 over the past five seasons while hitting over 20 home runs in each of the last three seasons. Defensively, Akiyama is capable of playing center field but also has experience playing the corner outfield positions, giving him plenty of defensive versatility.
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Exactly how Akiyama will fit into Cincinnati’s plans in 2020 remains to be seen. At first glance, he could potentially take over for Nick Senzel as the team’s primary center fielder. Senzel is on track to be ready for spring training after undergoing shoulder surgery. However, Akiyama could serve as insurance in center field if Senzel suffers a setback. Senzel is also capable of playing other positions, so a timeshare in center field between Senzel and Akiyama isn’t out of the question.
It’s also possible that Akiyama serves as Senzel’s backup in center field while getting most of his playing time at the corner spots. Jesse Winker, Aristides Aquino, and Phillip Ervin are in line to compete for playing time in left and right field next season. Scott Schebler and Travis Jankowski could also be in the mix. With Akiyama added to that group, the Reds almost have too much depth in the corner outfield spots, as it could be difficult to find consistent playing time for everybody.
The addition of Akiyama has also created speculation that the Reds could use some of their outfield depth in a trade. Cincinnati could potentially upgrade at shortstop or add to their pitching staff. Senzel, in particular, could be a major trade chip if the Reds were willing to part with him knowing that Akiyama could take over in center field. Of course, even Winker, Aquino, and Ervin could generate some interest on the trade market.
While Cincinnati’s next move remains to be seen, there’s no doubting that Reds have made improvements in several areas this winter. The club has already added power with the signing of Mike Moustakas and solidified the back end of the rotation with Wade Miley. With Akiyama, they add a table-setter at the top of their lineup and a versatile outfielder who increases their depth and flexibility. Obviously, Akiyama is unproven in the majors, but if nothing else, he gives the Reds an intriguing X-factor for the 2020 season.