Sports Hochi reported Wednesday, citing official sources, that the Hanshin Tigers of Japan’s Central League are in basic agreement on a contract with 32-year-old outfielder Jerry Sands, who led the Korean Baseball Organization with 113 RBIs this year for the Kiwoom Heroes.
Sands failed to stick with the Los Angeles Dodgers as a 23-year-old corner outfielder / first baseman after playing 61 games in 2011. He put together a solid if unspectacular Triple-A career before ending up in South Korea in 2018. This year, the 1.93-meter Sands hit 28 home runs, while batting .305, drawing 77 walks and scoring 100 runs with very small home-road splits.
In his Triple-A career, Sands posted a .362 on-base percentage in 1,576 career at-bats with the bulk of that coming as a youngster in Albuquerque in 2011 and 2012.
In addition to the Dodgers, Sands played in the majors for the Tampa Bay Rays, Cleveland Indians and Chicago White Sox. He also played one winter in Puerto Rico.
According to the Hochi report, his deal is expected to be completed this month.
According to Bill James‘ Win Shares formulas, the Tigers’ offense was 10th among 12 NPB teams in 2019, while their pitching was 3rd. The club has since signed former major leaguer Justin Bour.
After agent Joel Wolfe said the decision was down to three teams, the Dodgers were reported as one, while the Blue Jays had been connected in the media by people who thought he would be a good fit. And though the Rays were not mentioned, in retrospect they seem the best possible fit.
Tampa Bay has a history of committing to players whose value is low because other teams had not committed to them. That isn’t the case with Tsutsugo but it was a valid question considering the tough adjustments ahead of him.
My Tsutsugo profile suggests, according to analytic site Delta Graphs, that Tsutsugo is only a better-than-average fastball hitter in Japan, meaning he definitely has work to do against velocity that is a little higher than what he was accustomed to in Japan.
His outfield defense appears to have plateaued at league average in left field a few years ago and has gotten worse since. Because of who he is, and his attention to detail in everything he does, the most likely guess for this decline is the loss of a few steps and the effect of a couple of small nagging injuries over the past three seasons.
A different kind of cat
But Tsutsugo will give you everything you ask for and more that you didn’t know you needed from a player through his character and team-building skills. Despite being a newcomer to MLB, he will — like Hideki Matsui did with the Yankees — set an example for others about how to handle yourself.
Wolfe said the teams Tsutsugo worked out for this past week were impressed by his soft hands and his willingness to do whatever is necessary to be better. This, Wolfe said, was highlighted by his putting himself in uncomfortable situations, by playing ball in the Dominican Republic and grabbing his infield glove to help his team at third base — a position he hadn’t played at in over seven years.
He is also a rare individual among Japanese ballplayers in his willingness to endure potential controversy by taking a stand. This year, he published a book attacking Japan’s youth baseball culture as wrong-headed and damaging and has been spending his winters working with children, encouraging them to enjoy the game in a system that too often values winning at all costs for even the youngest and least-experienced children and puts their bodies at risk.