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Mar 17, 2019; Tokyo, Japan; Nippon Ham Fighters pitcher Kohei Arihara (16) gestures towards first base before the first pitch of the game against the Oakland Athletics at Tokyo Dome. Mandatory Credit: Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

By Alex Barth, 985TheSportsHub.com

The Red Sox appear to be rebuilding their starting rotation not through their own farm system, trades, or even traditional free agency. Instead, the team seems to be heavily focused on the NPB and players coming through the Japanese posting system.

Earlier this month, the Red Sox were said to be in aggressive pursuit of NPB pitcher of the year Tomoyuki Sugano. While there’s no indication that interest has waned, it looks like Sugano isn’t Chaim Bloom’s only focus in Japan.

According to reports from Japanese baseball media, the Red Sox are one of three finalists to land right-handed starting pitcher Kohei Arihara. Those reports name the San Diego Padres and Texas Rangers as the other two contenders for the 28-year-old.

Arihara broke into professional baseball in 2015 at the age of 22, winning the NPB’s Pacific League Rookie of the Year. After a pair of tough years in 2017 and 2018 he bounced back with a masterful 2019 campaign, posting a 15-8 record with a 2.46 ERA and 0.919 WHIP.

His 2020 wasn’t quite as dominant but still successful, with a 3.46 ERA and 1.168 ERA. In six season in the NPB, all with the Nippon Ham Fighters, he’s 60-50 with a 3.74 ERA, 1.209 WHIP, and 3.23 strikeout to walk ratio. Arihara throws a fastball that can hit 95 MPH, although is best pitch is his changeup.

Mar 17, 2019; Tokyo, Japan; Nippon Ham Fighters pitcher Kohei Arihara (16) throws a pitch during the first inning against the Oakland Athletics at Tokyo Dome. Mandatory Credit: Darren Yamashita-USA TODAY Sports

The final price tag for Arihara is expected to be lower than the $15 million a year deal rumored for Sugano. Because the posting fee is now calculated as a percentage of the contract an NPB player signed with an MLB team, Arihara represents a younger and more affordable option. Still, he doesn’t have a resume as impressive as Sugano. The 31-year-old Sugano is a two-time NPB pitcher of the year, and won the Central League MVP in 2020.

Once players are posted by their NPB teams, they have 30 days to negotiate a deal with MLB clubs. (If they don’t agree to a contract before the window closes, they revert back to the NPB for another year). While Sugano’s posting deadline isn’t until January 7, Arihara must sign by December 26. There’s no indication one way or the other if the team that lands Arihara will pull their offer from Sugano.

With a limited starting pitching free agent class and their trade options from the farm system limited, Chaim Bloom’s actions seem to indicate he believes the Japanese market is the way to go for a team that desperately needs starting pitching. What ends up happening with their pursuits of Arihara and Sugano will likely shape the rest of the team’s offseason.

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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.