Should the Arizona Diamondbacks consider pursuing Masataka Yoshida?

The Arizona Diamondbacks need a designated hitter, but would their time be well spent looking into Masataka Yoshida?

Sep 15, 2023; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Boston Red Sox left fielder Masataka Yoshida (7) sets to bat
Sep 15, 2023; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Boston Red Sox left fielder Masataka Yoshida (7) sets to bat / Kevin Sousa-USA TODAY Sports

The Arizona Diamondbacks are scouring the market for someone who can fill the role of their designated hitter. But there is one potential option on the trade market. The Boston Red Sox look like they are listening to offers regarding their LF/DH Masataka Yoshida. It's a bit surprising that the Sox may potentially move one of 2023's best rookies, but if they truly are willing to trade him, should the D-Backs consider making the swap?

Yoshida was signed last off-season to a five-year deal valued at $90 million (AAV of $18 million). Yoshida was one of Japan's top hitters, taking an approach at the plate that wouldn't be out of the ordinary for Tony Gwynn. Through his final three years in Japan, Yoshida batted at least .336 and drew over twice as many walks (213) as strikeouts (97). But he did it with some pop, going yard 21 times in 2021 and 2022.

The Japanese left fielder may not have matched those numbers in America, but he was still a solid force in the line-up, batting .289/.338/.445 with a .339 wOBA and 109 wRC+. Yoshida had a below-average .156 isolated slugging percentage and only drew a walk in 5.9% of his 580 plate appearances. But he kept strikeouts to a minimum with a 14% K-rate, which was the 10th lowest rate in 2023.

Yoshida saw 87 total appearances and logged 713.1 innings in left field but struggled defensively. He had -4 defensive runs saved and -8 outs above average. Despite playing less than 800 innings, Yoshida had the 5th least OAA among left fielders. Yoshida appeared in 49 games as a designated hitter as the Red Sox tried to limit his time in the field as much as possible without making him a full-time designated hitter.

Should the Diamondbacks consider Masataka Yoshida?

But there are some worrying aspects to Yoshida's bat. He only had a .325 xwOBA last season, which is about average but over ten points lower than the wOBA he posted in 2023. xBA is slightly more optimistic, putting him at .273, but with an xSLG% of .425, it doesn't put him in a super favorable light. If he were to hit like this next year, it would be similar to Kevin Kiermaier's or Bryson Stott's production.

But Kiermaier and Stott hitting like that is very different from Yoshida hitting like that. Kiermaier and Stott are two of the best defenders at their respective positions of center field and second base. Yoshida is a poor defensive left fielder who split his time at designated hitter in 2023. A league-average bat with poor defense at a position that typically is known for its hitting isn't the best look.

Of course, Yoshida could continue to play above his expected numbers. There are players who do this, but in my opinion, you need to see it beyond just one season. Plus, it's not as if Yoshida is a young gun either, as next year will already be his age-30 season.

It also depends on what the Red Sox want for Yoshida. They're not just going to give up a player who hit well in 2023 and finished sixth in MVP voting with four more years of affordable control remaining for nothing. They might not be asking for someone of Jordan Lawlar's caliber, but I'd assume the price will not be cheap.

The next question to ask is how much of an improvement Yoshida is over what the D-Backs currently have lined up. If the season were to start tomorrow, Dominic Fletcher would likely take over primary duties at DH. Not only did Fletcher do well last year during his short Major League stint, but he also batted well at Triple-A. Could Fletcher out-produce a 109 wRC+ in a full season? Personally, I would lean toward yes.

Finally, would investing both money and prospects into Yoshida be more valuable than the alternative? Yoshida is owed $18.6 million each of the next four seasons. I think the Diamondbacks could sign one of J.D. Martinez, Jorge Soler, Rhys Hoskins, or Justin Turner for the same or less than that annual salary. Not only that, but I think all four would out-produce Yoshida. Even a platoon where the D-Backs sign two players to fill the DH spot may out-produce Yoshida for an even lower price.

In my opinion, the Diamondbacks shouldn't look too far into Yoshida. I would be worried about how his approach will age in 2024 and the fact he's only an okay hitter as a LF/DH. Plus, there are still a handful of good potential DH options on the free agent market. I would not be entirely surprised if Fletcher even outperformed him in 2024.