As the Cubs look to shake things up in an effort to overcome the malaise of the past two seasons, they’re targeting “the total package.” Theo Epstein probably meant they’d be performing an evaluation of the entire organization when he used that phrase at his end-of-season presser, but it also applies to finding well-rounded players who can help the team in all facets of the game.
The two most obvious positions in need of improvement are second base and center field, the first of which we looked at in an earlier piece. That leaves center, a trouble spot that probably isn’t best solved by having Jason Heyward out there every day. Rather than perform a comprehensive breakdown of the dynamics in the outfield, including the potential of re-signing Nicholas Castellanos and keeping/trading Kyle Schwarber, we’re going to take a look at an interesting addition.
Japanese outfielder Shogo Akiyama has completed his contract with NPB’s Seibu Lions and is considering a move to MLB for 2020 as an international free agent. The lefty-batting Akiyama is known as an excellent defensive centerfielder with decent power and speed who established himself as a star with a breakout 2015 season that saw him slash .359/.419/.522 over 143 games.
Though his stats dropped off a little this past season, a .303/.392/.471 slash with 20 homers is nothing to sneeze at. Perhaps most notable is that Akiyama played in all 143 of his team’s games for the fifth straight season, each of which has seen him log at least 659 plate appearances. Part of the game is being able to suit up every day, ideally when actually healthy, which he’s had no problem doing.
If that’s not enough to get you excited, he’s basically the bizzarro Rick Vaughn…
Akiyama’s arrival may be overshadowed to an extent by that of countryman Yoshitomo Tsutsugo, a heralded slugger who will be posted by the Yokohama Bay Stars this winter. At just 28 years old and with a much higher power profile, Tsutsugo figures to generate much greater buzz throughout the industry. But since pursuing him also means going through the posting process, many teams might prefer the more straightforward pursuit of Akiyama.
The Cubs should absolutely be one of those teams in the latter camp, since Akiyama is a better fit for the offensive profile they’re seeking. Tsutsugo has commonly been comped to Kyle Schwarber based on his power and limited defensive capabilities, so he’s probably not the ideal target for the Cubs. Getting a guy who can play center capably while getting on base at a high rate while also limiting strikeouts should be a priority as they look to retool this winter.
There are obviously a lot of moving parts to this whole thing, the biggest of which is whether Akiyama really wants to come to the US, so this is just something to put a pin in for now. But if the Cubs are serious about turning over every stone in an effort to improve an offense that lacked dimension yet again in 2019, they’ll likely take a serious look at Akiyama.