Kenta Maeda, lefty-heavy rotation

Eight years seems excessive for Kenta Maeda


Is an eight-year deal simply too much for Kenta Maeda?

The Los Angeles Dodgers have agreed to terms with Japanese pitcher Kenta Maeda, according to multiple sources. The initial report came from Christopher Meola and was later confirmed by both Jon Heyman of CBS Sports and Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports.

Maeda was posted by the Carp on December 4 (according to ESPN) meaning he has a month (or until January 8th according to MLB.com) to sign with a club. The club that gets Maeda will have to pay the Carp what could be up to a maximum $20 million posting fee for Maeda. After they’ve paid the Carp, the club must then negotiate a separate contract with Maeda.

Initial reports of Maeda’s contract with the Dodgers put the deal at eight years, which seems excessive considering that Maeda isn’t exactly proven against Major League Baseball hitters. However, he did pitch against a team full of them during 2014’s Japan All-Star Series, going five innings while allowing just two hits. Still, it doesn’t mean that Maeda can compete against the entire league.

Kenta Maeda

Kenta Maeda. Getty Images.

He’s been extremely effective while playing in Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB) and already had the eye of MLB teams prior to now. Maeda, who won’t be eligible for free agency until 2017, had asked his club to post him prior to this season but they elected to keep him. 

The 27-year-old, who turns 28 in April, has been dominating NPB since 2010. At age 22 he led the league in wins, strikeouts and ERA. Since then he’s won the Sawamura Award (NPB’s equivalent of MLB’s Cy Young Award) twice, pitched more than 1,500 innings and has a career 2.39 ERA and 1.05 WHIP. Last season he posted a 2.09 ERA, 1.01 WHIP and 175/41 strikeout to walk ratio in 206 1/3 innings. His statistics on paper look unbelievable, however, there are other factors about Maeda’s pitching that could be concerning, especially given the reported length of the deal.

One such concern could be the high number of innings he’s pitched, few pitchers throw 1,500-plus innings before the age of 28. That does show that he’s got durability but he’s also already put a lot of strain on his arm at a young age. Maeda also has a small frame, listed at just 6 feet and 154 lbs which begs the question, “How well will his arm actually hold up?” He has pitched 28 complete games in his career. An eight-year deal has Maeda pitching for the Dodgers through his age 35 season.

Luckily, he doesn’t have MUCH of an injury history. He has had a few elbow issues as well as an oblique issue which could be seen as another concern about how well his arm will hold up. This is especially true now that he will be asked to pitch every five days instead of every seven days that is the norm in Japan.

Kenta Maeda

Kenta Maeda. Getty Images.

Against MLB’s standards Maeda profiles like a number four or five starter. His fastball sits in the low 90’s. To go along with that, he has a deep repertoire. His best and most heavily used pitch is his slider which sits in the low 80’s. He also throws a cutter, change-up and curveball but both his cutter and curveball are considered to be below-average pitches by MLB scouts and his change-up is a relatively new addition to his arsenal of pitches. 

He does lend a much needed right-arm to the Dodger’s rotation full of lefties in Clayton Kershaw, Brett Anderson, Scott Kazmir, Alex Wood and Hyun-jin Ryu, who should be returning from injury in 2016. The team also has a right-hander in Brandon McCarthy but he will not be returning until at least mid-season after undergoing Tommy John surgery last year. 

Still, despite the Dodgers need for a righty, eight years is a long time especially for a guy who profiles as a fourth or fifth starter whose arm may or may not hold up. There are sure to be clauses, incentives and opt-outs in the contract and the actual amount of the deal has not been reported yet so the Dodgers could have gotten a steal in Maeda but it seems unlikely being that they had to pay the $20 million posting fee just to be able to negotiate a contract with him. 

Then again, this IS baseball and you really never know what exactly is going to happen. He could end up being one of the best Japanese pitchers to come over to the big leagues or he could be a bust. Either way an eight-year deal just seems very excessive, even for the Dodgers.