One of the last free agent starting pitchers and a would’ve been free agent starting pitcher have both signed contracts to play the 2015 season in Japan.
Japanese ace Kenta Maeda is a 26-year-old who had expressed interest in playing in the Major Leagues, was forced to sign a one-year contract with his Nippon Professional Baseball team, the Hiroshima Carp refused to post him last week.
Had he been posted he could have commanded around a $100 million on the MLB free agent market. Maeda, who’s been compared to Yu Darvish and Masahiro Tanaka, is good but does not have the velocity of Darvish and Tanaka.
He relies on his breaking pitches and his fastball tops out in the low 90’s. He doesn’t have a devestating strikeout pitch which might not translate well into the MLB.
Maeda, who technically will not be a free agent until 2017 according to the Japan Times, expressed his disappointment as well as his intent to play in the states next season,
“I am thinking this (going to the majors) is close to becoming a reality. Hopefully I can go in the offseason next year,” said Maeda.
Unfortunately for Maeda and his free agency status he may not be able to pitch in MLB for another few seasons.
For Hiroki Kuroda this is a surprise move. The 30-year-old, who has spent seven seasons pitching in the United States for both the Los Angeles Dodgers and the New York Yankees, has signed a contract with the Carp.
Considered both reliable and consistent, he made 32 starts for the Yankees last season going 11-6 with a 3.71 ERA.
In his seven seasons he’s never posted an ERA over 4.00 and he’s 79-79 in his career with a 3.45 overall ERA.
Kuroda pitched 10 seasons in Japan from 1997-2007 with the Carp and won a Best Nine Award in 2006, which is given out to the best player at each position.
No word yet as to why Kuroda, who pitched the 2014 season with the Yankees and would have easily been picked up as a free agent in the U.S., has decided to return to Japan.
These two signings will make the free agent market even more interesting as the two last big-name starters Max Scherzer, who has been shown no interest by any team, and James Shields who is already being courted by a handful of teams, still have not signed contracts for the upcoming season.
It could cause teams who were looking at Kuroda and Maeda as back-up options for not getting Scherzer or Shields, to start making moves or actually courting Scherzer. I still doubt it but Scherzer may just get his asking price, which in my opinion is much too high at 200 million.
Eventually and especially due to the departure to Japan of Maeda and Kuroda some desperate (and rich) team may just bite – that is after James Shields who is reportedly only seeking five-years and $110 million is already signed.