Do Masataka Yoshida's comments suggest Red Sox made ill-advised free agency decision?

Boston Red Sox v Cincinnati Reds
Boston Red Sox v Cincinnati Reds / Kirk Irwin/GettyImages

Boston Red Sox designated hitter Masataka Yoshida had high expectations heaped onto him for the 2024 season.

Yoshida signed with the Red Sox in the winter of 2023 after seven seasons as an outfielder in Nippon Professional Baseball. He started just over half of Boston's 2023 games in the outfield, and this year he's played defense in just one game.

The Sox's outfield is packed and Yoshida's defense doesn't match up with their other candidates, so his transition to an everyday designated hitter role makes sense. But Yoshida is pushing 31 years old, and despite having DH experience from his time with the Orix Buffaloes, a transition so far into a career can be jarring.

"Yeah, I miss playing outfield,” Yoshida said to Christopher Smith of MassLive, through a translator.

“It’s not like I’ve never hit as a DH,” Yoshida continued. “I did that in Japan, too. So I am trying to do everything I can do to stay ready during the game.”

Masataka Yoshida wants to return to the outfield, but that wouldn't make sense for the Red Sox

Yoshida's previous experience as a DH hasn't shown through — although, he was sidelined for a month soon after he began a hot streak. His .228/.302/.316 reflects a substantial decrease in offensive production from his 2023 numbers.

Boston signed Yoshida to a five-year, $90 million deal before last season. His offense delivered some of the consistency the Red Sox needed, but his defense left much to be desired.

Yoshida's fit with the current Red Sox roster is questionable. Manager Alex Cora was forced to move him into the DH slot because Boston's outfield is so crowded — Jarren Duran, Wilyer Abreu, Rob Refsnyder, Ceddanne Rafaela and Tyler O'Neill make for a pretty stacked lineup. They're all playing well on both sides of the ball, which makes Yoshida's contract look even less advisable.

Slow starts have been constant throughout Yoshida's baseball career. The veteran has frequently taken time to warm up to another season of work, and his performance after a month on the shelf due to a thumb strain is likely no exception. He could still hit his stride and become a reliable, middle-of-the-order bat for Boston, as he was supposed to be.

But Yoshida doesn't fit in with the Red Sox's outfield, especially at its current defensive pedigree. O'Neill will be a free agent and Refsnyder has a club option available for 2025, so two new spots could become available in Boston's pastures next year. Yoshida could find his way back to the outfield again, but it would be severe defensive regression for the team, especially since he'd be a year out of practice.

Yoshida could be hard to trade with over three years remaining on his rather expensive contract. But it may be in Boston's best interest to try and ship him elsewhere for 2025 unless his bat can live up to his NPB numbers.

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