By Alex Barth, 985TheSportsHub.com
It’s no secret the Red Sox need to overhaul their starting rotation this offseason. Now, it appears the team is looking beyond the MLB free agent pool to do so.
As first reported by Sean McAdam of Boston Sports Journal, the Red Sox “intend to be aggressive in their pursuit” of star Japanese pitcher Tomoyuki Sugano. Sugano is expected to be added to the Japanese posting system as early as this week.
Sugano has been wildly successful in his eight seasons in Nippon Professional Baseball, all coming with the Yomiuri Giants. He was named league MVP his second season, and is a two-time winner of the Eiji Sawamura award – the NPB’s equivalent of the Cy Young. In 197 career games he’s posted a 101-50 record, with a 2.34 ERA.
The 2020 season was one of Sugano’s best. He finished 14-2 with a 1.97 ERA in 137.1 innings. His WHIIP was a miniscule 0.888 and he racked up 131 strikeouts compared to just 25 walks.
There is some evidence his game will transfer to North America well. Sugano was in Japan’s rotation for the 2017 World Baseball Classic, and started the semifinal game against Team USA. The rightly threw six innings without allowing an earned run. He allowed only four Americans reached base (three singles and a walk) while striking out six. The clip below has his full outing.
Sugano is a finesse pitcher, and has a five-pitch repertoire. His four seam fastball tops out between 93 and 96 MPH, which he pairs with a sinker. He also throws a curveball, slider, and forkball.
The biggest concern with Sugano is his age. At 31, he’s considerably older than the average player making the jump to Major League Baseball. In recent history, high-profile pitchers entering the posting system did so in their mid-to-late 20’s.
How will this impact his market? According to McAdam, the Red Sox “aggressive pursuit” will be matched by “other teams — including many big market teams, [with] similar levels of interest.”
Still, this isn’t expected to be another Daisuke Matsuzaka situation, when the Red Sox paid $51 million just to talk to the then-27-year-old, then signed him to a six-year, $52 million contract. Posting fees are now a percentage of the final contract, not blind bids. Given Sugano’s age, the duration should be less as well.
For reference, McAdam speculates a potential deal for Sugano in the four-year, $60 million range. Adding in the posting fee, and the total cost to the Red Sox to bring him on board would be $70.87 million. That may seem pricy, but it’s about half of the total value Trevor Bauer is expected to get as a free agent in a down year for teams needing pitching. Sugano also wouldn’t count against the Red Sox international signing money.
Post-Mookie Betts trade and willing to spend, can the Red Sox bring him on board? They should be able to make a convincing financial pitch. On top of that, their history of Japanese players – specifically pitchers – should play in as well. In recent years Matsuzaka, Hideki Okajima, Junichi Tazawa, and closer Koji Uehara have all seemed to fit in Boston.
If they do land Sugano, the question then becomes how does that shape the rest of Chaim Bloom’s offseason? Will he be the big splash, or just one piece of the rebuild. The Red Sox have been tied through rumors to two-time Cy Young winner Corey Kluber, as well as outfielder Eddie Rosario. Do those options come off the table, even though they’d still be needed?
As with most posting system situations, it will be a wait-and-see thing with Sugano. Once the Giants officially list him, MLB teams will have 30 days to negotiate with his camp. In recent years with posted players, those negotiations have gone into the 11th hour, usually taking most if not all of the 30 days. While the Red Sox have the money to be aggressive here, they can’t let it handcuff them from making other moves in the meantime.
How the Red Sox handle the pursuit of Sugano will likely become one of the defining moments of Chaim Bloom’s early Red Sox tenure. Can he land an instant upgrade for the rotation without having to give up any prospects, or will he miss on his first big contract?
Alex Barth is a writer and digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Thoughts? Comments? Questions? Looking for a podcast guest? Let him know on Twitter @RealAlexBarth or via email at Alexander.Barth@bbgi.com.