Yamada eyes Tokyo 2020

Olympics lure could keep Swallows slugger in NPB

Saying he wants to use the 2020 Tokyo Olympic games as motivation, slugging Yakult Swallows second baseman Tetsuto Yamada began his winter workouts on Thursday.

“I am going to demand results from myself, because if I don’t produce, I can’t get selected for the national team,” Yamada said.

The 26-year-old appeared to regain most of the form he had from the middle of 2014 to the middle of 2016, when he was on course to be the best player of his generation. But he struggled even more with inside pitches after he was hit in the back in the middle of the 2016 season, and took more than a year and a half to bounce back.

Yamada, whose defense has steadily improved year after year, is the only player in NPB history to have more than one season with a .300-plus average along with 30 or more home runs and steals. He made it three this season.

He is perhaps the only position player in Japan who would attract a sizable guaranteed MLB contract and bring his club some return in the form of a posting fee. But his apparent lack of interest — and the fact that he will be worth considerably less as a 28-year-old, means he may have to wait until he is eligible for international free agency after the 2021 season to finally make the move.

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