The MLB hot stove hasn't been so hot this year, but things are looking like they might start to spark and catch fire just before the holidays. One of the most under the radar players on the market is Japanese starting pitcher, Tomoyuki Sugano, and the Boston Red Sox are reportedly going to be "aggressive" in trying to sign him, according to Sean McAdam of Boston Sports Journal.
Sugano is a 31-year-old righty who has spent his whole career to this point, in Japan with the Yomiuri Giants. In his eight season career he has pitched to a 2.34 ERA while winning one MVP in 2014 and back to back Elji Sawamura awards (equivalent to the Cy Young award for best pitcher in MLB) in 2017 and 2018. He's been a six-time All Star and would likely come over and slot into most MLB rotations somewhere between the 3rd or 5th spot.
When a Japanese player with under nine years of professional experience decides that he wants to come to the United States to play in the MLB, they must be "posted" by their Japanese club. Sugano was posted this morning at 8 am and the clock has started ticking on how long he'll be available to interested MLB ball clubs. The process lasts 30 days, so teams have until January 7th before the window closes for negotiation. Sugano is exempt from international bonus pools and thus is free to sign for any amount of money over any length of contract.
You might remember from past experiences with Japanese players coming overseas, that the teams looking to sign them must pay a "release fee" just to negotiate with the player. In the past, the Japanese club could set the release fee as high as $20 million or their could even be a bid for exclusive rights. In 2006, when the Sox went after another Japanese starter (with much more star-power) named Daisuke Matsuzaka, they bid $51.1 million just to win those exclusive rights over the Yankees ($32 million) and the Mets ($38 million). They then paid out a 6-year, $52 million contract to "Dice-K" to bring their total investment to $103.1 million. Despite the fact that Sugano won't command that type of money, this shows that teams must add a chunk of money into the equation just to talk with these "free agents."
Now, things have gotten a bit more palatable with new rules put in place in 2018 that have the release fee depending on the guaranteed value of the contract that the player ultimately signs. My guess is that Sugano will end up with guaranteed money that equals less than $25 million which would mean his posting fee will be 20% of the total guarantee.
Anyway, the team that signs him is the only one that has to pay that fee, so if the Sox go out and lose to the Padres, Yankees or some other suitor, they are without financial loss. With all of that said, do we want him? Therein lies the real question.
Let's start with the positives to signing up Sugano. First of all and most importantly, the Sox need good pitching. In a very thin free agent market and with a trade market that'll likely be a little quieter due to the pandemic, I'd say taking a shot here makes some sense. Sugano is one of the best pitchers in Japan and is viewed as one of the top available talents. He impressed in the 2017 World Baseball Classic against Team USA and has shown that he can hang with big-league hitters.
Throw in the fact that Sugano has had some recent injuries and struggles before bouncing back this past season, and his stock is still a little lower than it probably should be. He'll also probably cost less with most teams being a little scared to spend lavishly after revenue loss in 2020. The Red Sox have no excuse to cry poor and they need some buzz. Don't sign Sugano at the expense of making bigger moves, but add him if he can be your third or fourth best acquisition of the offseason.
Of course, there are some cons to this idea. I hate that Sugano is 31 and relies on junk rather than power. I also don't love the history of Japanese pitchers coming to the MLB. It doesn't seem like we have a whole lot of success stories, minus Yu Darvish (who has had his awful moments too). Despite the drawbacks, I think the Sox should be as aggressive as it is being said they will be. Be the big market club with deep pockets. Pay up for that 3rd starter! At least at that point, we'll know they are trying.