Was Masataka Yoshida’s contract a mistake after news of Sox moving him to DH?

Chicago White Sox v Boston Red Sox
Chicago White Sox v Boston Red Sox / Winslow Townson/GettyImages

Red Sox manager Alex Cora told the media that Masataka Yoshida will transition into more of a designated hitter role for the 2024 season, rather than continuing to let him find his way in the outfield every day.

"Macho Man" Yoshida provided an instant offensive impact his rookie season, ranking 86th amongst qualified big leaguers in offensive fWAR. His 14% strikeout rate ranked 10th in MLB last season, exemplifying his elite bat-to-ball skills that were renowned during his NPB career.

However, baseball pundits rightfully highlighted his defensive shortcomings and lack of athleticism when the Red Sox signed Yoshida to a five-year, $90 million contract, which included a $15.4 million posting fee to the Orix Buffaloes, Yoshida's former club in Japan. His -14.9 Defensive fWAR ranked third-worst on a Red Sox team that ranked dead last in outs above average. Yoshida's 26.2 foot per second sprint speed ranked 453rd amongst 582 MLB players last season. He should be an everyday DH.

Boston's new chief baseball officer Craig Breslow believes it's more beneficial for a team without a Hall-of-Fame caliber DH to rotate many different players into the DH spot. Yoshida is a good offensive player, but he's no Big Papi, Shohei Ohtani, Frank Thomas, Edgar Martinez, or even J.D. Martinez.

Red Sox's Masataka Yoshida is an expensive everyday designated hitter

The move begs the question: will Yoshida's offensive production outweigh rostering a soon-to-be 31-year-old DH, who is still owed $72 million over the next four years?

Breslow said that he wants to "give Alex [Cora] as much flexibility as possible" with the roster. If Cora wants to enact said lineup flexibility to rotate Rafael Devers, Triston Casas, or Trevor Story to DH, then the Red Sox will need to either insert Yoshida in the outfield or bench him. The Red Sox already possess more defensively gifted outfielders in Jarren Duran, Wilyer Abreu, Tyler O'Neill, and Rob Refsnyder. They also have Ceddanne Rafaela and Roman Anthony waiting in the wings.

Vaughn Grissom had been previously linked to a potential move to the outfield in his Atlanta days, given his previous defensive struggles in the infield. The Red Sox and Cora are now hamstrung by Yoshida's defensive insufficiencies, as inserting him into the outfield negatively affects Boston's already dreadful run-prevention capabilities.

Chaim Bloom and the Red Sox front office were criticized for potentially overpaying for Yoshida's services when the signing was announced. Yoshida's pricey contract, in the context of his DH transition and an outfield that places a heavy emphasis on platooning and late-game defensive substitutions, is not justified.

Boston's current roster isn't telegraphing a winning season in 2024. While the Red Sox possess a loaded farm system, it isn't much better than the Orioles, Rays, or Yankees. Given the past inabilities to trade players to maximize future value (Turner, Paxton, Duvall), I could see Breslow entertaining the idea of moving Yoshida at the trade deadline if/when the Red Sox fall out of contention.

Breslow and the front office should explore Yoshida's trade value, rather than 27-year-old Jarren Duran's, as the Red Sox's timeline to compete is more than likely to occur after Yoshida's peak has passed.

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