Outfielder Shogo Akiyama wanted to make history with Reds

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Cincinnati Reds outfielder Shogo Akiyama speaks through an interpreter as he is interviewed after a news conference, Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2020, in Cincinnati. Outfielder Shogo Akiyama agreed to a $21 million, three-year deal with the Cincinnati Reds, the only major league team that hasn't had a player born in Japan. The 31-year-old center fielder was a five-time All-Star during his nine seasons with the Seibu Lions in Japan's Pacific League. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

CINCINNATI, OH – Shogo Akiyama knew the Cincinnati Reds were the only Major League Baseball team that never had a player born in Japan. The chance to break a barrier was part of his impetus to sign.

Akiyama got a $21 million, three-year deal this week with the Reds. They introduced him Wednesday at Great American Ball Park, where the five-time Japanese All-Star figures to play one of the outfield spots and bat high in the order.

“The fact that they’ve never had a Japanese player was something that was very attractive, and their presentation was impressive," Akiyama said, through translator Roger Kahlon. "It made me want to play here.”

The Reds scouted the 31-year-old outfielder for the last few seasons in Japan's Pacific League and made the biggest push to sign him when he became a free agent, which also made an impression.

“We were the first team to approach him, the first to give him scouting materials, the first team he met with at the winter meetings and the first to offer him a contract,” said Dick Williams, the Reds' president of baseball operations.

The deal includes salaries of $6 million this year, $7 million in 2021 and $8 million in 2022. If traded, Akiyama would get a $1 million assignment bonus from the team that acquires him. He can't be sent to the minors without his consent.

Akiyama would get $250,000 for winning Rookie of the Year, $200,000 for finishing second and $150,000 for third through fifth, and the same amounts for his finish in league MVP voting. He also would get $100,000 each for All-Star selection and winning a Gold Glove or Silver Slugger.

The deal also includes standard perks given to Japanese players joining an MLB club, including a team-provided interpreter, personal trainer, one-time moving allowance, English lessons for himself and family, and round-trip business class airline tickets to the U.S.