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Reds sign Japanese center fielder Shogo Akiyama to three-year deal

He would be team's first Japanese-born player
Shogo_Akiyama_2018.jpg
Posted at 6:28 PM, Jan 06, 2020
and last updated 2020-01-07 13:29:16-05

CINCINNATI — Shogo Akiyama figures to become the first Japanese-born player to ever take the field for the Cincinnati Reds now that the center fielder has signed a three-year, $21-million deal.

The five-time Japanese Pacific League All-Star will earn $6 million in 2020, $7 million in 2021 and $8 million in 2022. Akiyama, 31, will be in town Wednesday for a news conference, the Reds said in a release.

The Reds are the only major-league team that has never had a Japanese-born player in its lineup.

Why?

Through the years, the Reds didn't scout Japan or South Korea, leaving that territory to other clubs. That changed after Dick Williams became Reds president of baseball operations. During the previous offseason, the Reds added Pacific Rim scouting manager Rob Fidler and Pacific Rim scout Jamey Storvick, according to Reds.com, so more players could follow Akiyama.

"We scouted Shogo for several years in anticipation of his free agency," Williams said in a release. "We like his approach at the plate as well as his outfield defense, and we think he will complement our team very well."

The 31-year-old Akiyama, who bats left and throws right, is projected as a possible leadoff hitter for the Reds based on his .301 lifetime battting average and .376 on-base percentage during a nine-year career with the Seibu Lions.

Akiyama could also move to one of the corner spots in the Reds' unsettled outfield. Center fielder Nick Senzel is returning from surgery on his right shoulder, and the addition of Akiyama gives the Reds another option at that spot. They also have outfielders Aristides Aquino, Jesse Winker and Phillip Ervin.

SEE Akiyama's career stats.

Last season, Akiyama hit .303 with a .392 on-base percentage, 31 doubles, four triples, 20 homers and 62 RBI. He was a Pacific League All-Star for the fifth time and earned his sixth Golden Glove Award for defense and his fourth Best Nine Award for offense.

In 2015, Akiyama hit .359 and set a Nippon Professional Baseball single-season record with 216 hits in 143 games.

In October, Akiyama filed for free agency and became eligible to sign with a Major League Baseball team.

SEE how the Nippon Professional League compares with MLB.

Akiyama is the second significant offseason addition by the Reds to try to upgrade an offense that ranked near the bottom of the NL in runs last season. They also signed second baseman Mike Moustakas to a $64 million, four-year deal — the largest for a free agent in club history.

Cincinnati also signed Wade Miley to a $15 million, two-year contract that added a left-hander to its deep rotation that already included All-Stars Luis Castillo and Sonny Gray, along with Trevor Bauer and Anthony DeSclafani.

The Reds are trying to emerge from a rut of six straight losing seasons.