It was announced on April 22 that outfielder Yoshitomo Tsutsugo (31), a member of the Rangers’ 3A affiliate Round Rock, will become a free agent and leave the team. This is his fourth year in the U.S. He has struggled in the minor leagues in hopes of moving up to the majors, but in 51 games, he had a .249 batting average, six home runs, 33 runs batted in, and an OPS of .812.
The Rangers, who are in first place in the West Division of the American League, had no room for Tsutsuka due to positional conflicts, but now that he has left the team, his future career is the focus of much attention. A senior executive at a management company with connections to the U.S. baseball world revealed the story behind the timing of Tsutsuka’s release.
Tsutsuka had clearly improved in June, hitting home runs in three consecutive games, but due to team circumstances, the Rangers were unable to promote him to the major leagues, so he left on the premise of joining another team. However, because the Rangers have no chance of being promoted to the majors due to team circumstances, it is safe to assume that Tsutsuka left with the assumption that he would be transferred to another team.
Tsutsuka crossed the ocean in the off-season of 2007, when he signed a two-year contract with the Rays via the posting system from DeNA. After leaving in the middle of 2009, he went on to the Dodgers, Pirates, and Blue Jays. This season, he signed a minor league contract with the Rangers and was an invitee to the majors’ spring camp, but was omitted from the opening day majors (40-man roster).
Now that he is an FA, Tsutsuka has a number of options. First, he could move to a U.S. team. He is believed to be on the lists of several teams that are short on first basemen due to injuries and other team problems, and he will be able to negotiate with teams that match his needs. Another possibility is that he will return to the Japanese baseball world after a four-year absence.
In fact, several NPB teams are continuing their investigations with a view to Tsutsuka’s return to Japan. In the U.S. baseball world, players over the age of 30 are very strict, but in Japanese baseball, his age of 31 is not a bottleneck. His track record before coming to the U.S. is impeccable, and the addition of a former star player will have a big impact in terms of publicity. He is definitely an attractive player for teams looking for a left-handed slugger to fill out their lineup.
Of course, DeNA, where he was a member until 2007, is likely to make a move for his return, but there are those who believe that he will not be easily replaced by a former player.
The Giants have emerged as the most likely destination for Tsutsuka when he returns to Japan. Whenever Tsutsuka has become an FA, the Giants have sent him a love call, and when he left the Pirates in 2009, the Giants were also interested in acquiring him. They were close to reaching an agreement, but they were unable to sign a contract because of an offer from the Blue Jays. The reason is that they respected Tsutsuka’s desire to give top priority to an offer from a U.S. team,” said a Pacific League team organizer.
Even if he signs a contract with a major league team, there is a possibility that he will be released again before the reinforcement deadline at the end of July, and it is highly likely that he will become an FA when his contract expires in the off-season. Domestic teams will continue to keep a close eye on Tsutsuka’s progress and determine whether or not to acquire him.
Softbank had shown interest in the past, but after acquiring Kondo, who declared himself an FA from Nippon Ham last offseason, the left clutch hitter is no longer a point of reinforcement.
In Japan, it will probably be a one-on-one battle between DeNA and the Giants. However, the Giants have an overwhelming advantage in terms of conditions, including money. If it becomes a money game, DeNA will have a hard time.
What color uniforms will he choose?