Tampa Bay Rays

Rays signing of Yoshitomo Tsutsugo should silence critics, even in their clubhouse

The Tampa Bay Rays are adding versatile Japanese star Yoshitomo Tsutsugo on a two-year deal.

Former Cy Young Award winner Blake Snell vented his frustrations last week about the direction his Tampa Bay Rays were heading. A move the Rays made on Friday, though, should help calm his irritation.

The Rays have agreed to a deal with Yoshitomo Tsutsugo, signing the Japanese slugger to a two-year contract worth around $12 million according to Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times. The 28-year-old Tsutsugo joins the Rays after spending his entire professional career with the Yokohama Bay Stars of the Japanese Central League.

Tsutsugo is primarily a left-fielder but also has experience at first and third base, versatility which will work well in Tampa Bay. He hit .272 with 29 home runs and 79 RBI in 131 games last season and has averaged a .976 OPS and 35 home runs over the last four. Fans in the United States will be most familiar with him from the World Baseball Classic in 2017, where he had a 1.326 OPS in the first round and was named MVP of Pool B. He started in left field for Japan’s semi-final matchup against the Americans in Dodger Stadium.

Scouts who have seen Tsutsugo play compare him favorably to Kyle Schwarber, the power-hitting outfielder for the Chicago Cubs. Rays manager Kevin Cash attended a workout in San Diego during the Winter Meetings and came away impressed enough to pry him away from other suitors, including AL East rivals the Toronto Blue Jays.

The success rate of Japanese stars making the move to the Major Leagues is mixed at best, but if Tsutsugo turns out more like Ichiro Suzuki or Shohei Ohtani the Rays will be happy they took the risk. It was one they had to take after growing dissension in their own clubhouse this offseason.

The Rays traded outfielder Tommy Pham to the San Diego Padres on Dec. 6 in return for Hunter Renfroe and prospect Xavier Edwards. Snell heard about the deal while streaming a video game on Twitch, and his reaction was far from positive. “We gave Pham up for Renfroe and a damn slap —  prospect?” he said before later apologizing for the remark.

Snell should be used to the frugal Rays giving up their star players before having to pay them. Just in his four-year career, he’s seen key players like Evan Longoria and Chris Archer leave Tampa Bay. But, somehow, the Rays usually find a way to make it work. In exchange for Archer, they got Tyler Glasnow and Austin Meadows, a deal that now seems heavily one-sided in favor of the Rays. They won 96 games in 2019 and made the postseason despite fielding a team with the lowest payroll in baseball at $64 million.

The Rays’ front office always seem to make the right move at the right time. Snell and the rest of the players in the clubhouse have to have confidence that the deal they’re giving to Tsutsugo will work out, just like they usually do.

Next: Anthony Rendon teams up with Mike Trout on the Angels

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