For years Yuki Yanagita has made scouts wonder how much of an impact he could make in the majors when he was finally able to file for free agency and leave the SoftBank Hawks. On Wednesday we found out that the answer is nothing.
At a press conference, Yanagita, 31, announced a seven-year contract to stay with the Hawks. The Hawks will maintain his current salary of 570 million yen with additional performance incentives with salary boosts possible afterward depending on his numbers.
The deciding factor was a muscle tear behind one knee that saw him miss most of the 2019 season. He failed to make it back to the first team roster in time for the season to count as the eighth year of service time he needs to file for international free agency. Yanagita was deactivated on April 8 and didn’t play again until he reported no problems in his first farm team game on Aug. 8.
“I was able to swing like usual,” he said at the time. “I had no trouble running.”
There had been talk in early July of bringing him back in July as a DH so as not to put extra strain on the knee because he had been hitting in rehab. But at the time of the minor league start, the Hawks said Yanagita would need 10 games before being activated. Eventually, they settled on six games and 13 more days off the active roster.
13 days can be worth a year
Those 13 days, it turned out, were crucial to Yanagita’s future.
When the Hawks’ Pacific League season ended on Oct. 13 with the final day of the PL playoffs, Yanagita had amassed 135 of the 145 days needed to complete a year’s service time in 2019 and potentially file for free agency 11 months from now. He entered the year with 11 days he’d been carrying over since 2012, was on the roster for 64 days, and received the maximum of 60 days for players hurt in first-team games.
With that innocuous little delay, the Hawks, Japan’s most stubborn opponent of Japanese players moving abroad, were able to add an extra year of control. The Hawks are the only team in Japan that has yet to agree to post a single player, and now the club won’t have to deal with its best player leaving as a free agent.
That extra year and the extremely generous salary offer that was almost too good to turn down was enough to keep the best player of his generation in Japan for the rest of his career or at least until he’s 38.
According to the Japan Professional Baseball Players Association, Yanagita and his agent checked with the union about the shortfall. The union spoke to the Hawks and said the player and his agent were satisfied that the delay was not intentional.
My profile of Yanagita is HERE. Because of his extremely high peak value — he’s the only player other than Sadaharu Oh to lead his league in on-base percentage and slugging average in four consecutive seasons — I have Yanagita ranked as the 15th greatest player in NPB history.