FanPost

Why the Brewers should take a Long Look at NPB Slugger Seiya Suzuki

It’s a pretty safe bet that Avisail Garcia has played his last game in a Milwaukee Brewers uniform. Garcia led a sometimes impotent Brewers in both HR and RBI in what ended up being a career year for the 30-year-old Venezuelan outfielder. He also reached the requisite number of plate appearances to turn his 2022 club option into a mutual one, one that he seems fairly certain to decline given. If Garcia is truly gone, the Brewers have a power void they will need to fill in their everyday lineup.

There are a bunch of RF alternatives to Garcia in the pending free agent pool. Kris Bryant and Nicholas Castellanos (if he opts out) could both land six figure deals. Other options such as Kyle Schwarber, Eddie Rosario, Joc Pederson and Jorge Soler should all expect to have suitors for more modest, but still likely, multi-year contracts. I wouldn't be shocked if Milwaukee goes that route and tries to land an established MLB hitter on a two or three yeard contract.

But another interesting opportunity presents itself in the form of potential Japanese import, Seiya Suzuki.

The standout Hiroshima Carp slugger looks likely to be posted by his parent club this winter. He’s been a top player in Japan pretty much since he broke into the league as a teenager and he's coming off an absolute monster 2021 season where he hit .317 with 38 HRs with a 1:1 K/BB ratio. Suzkui has managed a wRC+ over 160 in every season he’s played since 2016 and only just now turned 27 years old. He’s entering his athletic prime and has accomplished everything one possibly could in Japan and is likely ready for the challenge of MLB.

Here are Suzuki’s career stats in the NPB:

Year

Age

G

PA

R

H

2B

3B

HR

RBI

SB

BB

SO

BA

OBP

SLG

OPS

2013

18

104

378

36

95

15

4

2

39

10

23

37

0.274

0.322

0.357

0.679

2014

19

86

265

31

74

17

1

5

26

8

16

35

0.300

0.341

0.437

0.778

2015

20

99

248

22

59

7

3

5

25

7

18

39

0.271

0.332

0.399

0.731

2016

21

134

543

76

158

26

8

29

95

17

54

81

0.329

0.398

0.598

0.996

2017

22

115

512

85

131

28

1

26

90

16

62

80

0.300

0.389

0.547

0.936

2018

23

125

522

87

136

32

2

31

96

4

88

116

0.321

0.439

0.625

1.064

2019

24

140

612

112

167

31

0

28

87

25

103

81

0.335

0.453

0.565

1.018

2020

25

118

514

85

129

26

2

25

75

6

72

73

0.300

0.409

0.544

0.953

2021

26

131

533

77

138

26

0

38

87

9

87

87

0.317

0.433

0.639

1.072

TOTAL

1052

4127

611

1087

208

21

189

620

102

523

629

0.309

0.402

0.541

0.943

Suzuki has also won the NPB’s Gold Glove award four times in RF, the position most scouts think he would play in the majors, mostly due to possessing good speed and a very strong throwing arm. He’d need to adjust to the more spacious ballparks in MLB and fine tune his routes on hard hit balls, but Suzuki has the athleticism and tools to be at least an average MLB defender in a corner OF spot.

But it's not just his offensive stats or awards that should draw the Brewers attention. It's the fact that Suzuki looks to a lot of scouts like he can make a successful jump to MLB. Some folks around baseball absolutely love his swing and plate discipline. ProspectsLive.com did a deep dive on Suzuki earlier this month and it should leave Brewers fans very intrigued.

From the article:

Mechanically speaking there’s a lot to like about Suzuki’s swing. I myself have flaunted all over on my twitter about how perfect and efficient it is. It's a short, no-nonsense type of swing that works well with his typically patient approach. He has some of the strongest hands and fastest bat speeds in the league. He transfers his power from load to hips so well. He’s quick to the ball on a great swing path that allows him to get to fastballs on the inside and all over the plate. Suzuki gives me confidence for potential success against major league pitchers because of these factors of his swing. It’s beautiful.

The full article is worth a read if only to watch some of the highlight clips they include.

The thing I like most about the reports I read on Suzuki, is that his power is not a byproduct of him embracing the launch angle revolution. He has a flat swing that keeps the bat in the zone a long time. He hammers the ball all over the park and is much more than an "all-or-nothing" hitter. He hit a HR about every 14 plate appearances this season in Japan while carrying a 16.3% K-rate. Yes - the level of competition matters. But that’s still wildly impressive.

Recruiting top foreign league talent can certainly be risky (see Lindblom, Josh). But there have been some darn good players to come out of the NPB in recent years: Shohei Otahni, Kenta Maeda, Yu Darvish all the way back to Ichiro. There’s been some flameouts too, but it’s an avenue worth going down if you’re the Brewers who are trying to find a key offensive producer on a tight budget.

Notably, Suzuki wouldn’t come with any draft pick compensation due to a Qualifying Offer. This is something the Brewers will run into with some of the other free agents out there. Suzuki would, however, come with the added cost of the posting fee. The details of which are somewhat confusing.

From MLBTradeRumors:

Under the latest iteration of the NPB-MLB posting system, all 30 clubs would be able to negotiate freely with Suzuki. The team with which he eventually signs would then owe a release fee to Suzuki’s former team, the Carp. That fee correlates directly with the size of the contract. Any team that signed Suzuki would pay a sum of 20 percent of a contract’s first $25MM to the Carp.

For example (and not to say this is the type of contract Suzuki will command), a $50MM contract would cost a big league team a total of $59.375MM — $50MM to the player and $9.375MM to the former NPB club. Option years and incentives/bonuses are also factored in if they are eventually unlocked (e.g. a $10MM club option tacked on top of that theoretical $50MM deal would require the MLB club to pay $1.5MM to the NPB team once it is picked up — 15 percent of the guarantee beyond $50MM).

I don’t see a potential contract for Suzuki playing out at the figures MLBTR lays out above. After MLB’s posting rules were revised in 2018, the Rays singed Yoshitomo Tsutsugo for 2 years and $12MM with a $2.4MM posting fee. The Reds signed Shogo Akiyama for 3 years and $21MM with no posting fee, as he was a true free agent. Last winter, the Padres secured the services of Ha Seong Kim from the KBO, paying him $28MM guaranteed over four years, with $5.25MM going to his parent club.

Knowing all of that, I think a 3-year deal around $7.5MM per season should be in the ballpark for Suzuki’s first contract. That deal would result in a $4.5MM posting fee and a $27MM total commitment for a player who scouts think could easily hit 25 HRs and 25 doubles once he gets to MLB (something only 44 MLB players managed last year, none of them Brewers). Obviously if he can deliver that kind of return, Suzuki would be well worth the investment.

I’d also note that the players I mentioned above – Tsutsugo, Akiyama and Kim – ended up in Tampa Bay, Cincinnati and San Diego respectively. I think the conventional wisdom is that Milwaukee is not a realistic destination for these kinds of foreign imports, but that has really changed since MLB revised the posting rules and it has led to more open competition for these players. Additionally, the Brewers do have some positive history with Japanese imports, having signed Nori Aoki back in 2012 and being a free agent landing spot for Hideo Nomo back in 1999. Nomo, in particular, raved about his time in Milwaukee.

Suzuki might not be ready to walk into an MLB lineup and be productive on day one. It will likely take an adjustment period like it did for Tsutsugo, who really struggled in his first 200 MLB PAs before hitting his stride this season after catching on with Pittsburgh (.243/.337/.467 in his last 175 PAs). But Suzuki is a decent bet to at least provide average MLB production as an everyday player if given enough time to adjust. A full spring training without any COVID restrictions -like Tsutsugo and Akiyama had to navigate in 2020 - should help a lot. Plus, the Brewers do have Tyrone Taylor and a few top prospects knocking at the door in case the signing goes belly-up.

Even with a ballooning payroll due to arbitration awards and some aging contracts, the Brewers should be able to offer fair market value for Suzuki without straining their budget too much. He has about as high of a floor as a foreign league player will, with significant upside if everything comes together - which is basically what Ohtani did at the plate for LAA this year. Sure, that's a high bar to clear. But it's not out of the question Suzuki could come close to those kinds of numbers in the right situation.

If Milwaukee wants to replace Avi Garcia without paying out top dollar to a guy like Bryant or Castellanos, Seiya Suzuki might just be their guy. We'll know in the next few weeks if Suzkui officially gets posted. And if he does, the Brewers should be all in.