What is a loaded free agent starting pitching market could receive a late-entry to the off-season party this week. The Hiroshima Carp is expected to post RHP Kenta Maeda.
The team announced last Friday that Maeda would be posted and the paperwork is expected to be filed with Major League Baseball in the coming week.
It’s unknown if the Cubs will agree to pay the $20 million release fee for the right to negotiate a contract with Kenta Maeda, the 27-year old Japanese right-hander and two-time Sawamura Award winner.
Under the agreement Major League Baseball and Nippon Professional Baseball reached two years ago, the NPB club may not set the release fee at an amount higher than $20 million and the fee cannot be changed once it has been set by the NPB club. Maeda is expected to be posted at the max fee of $20 million.
Teams that would like to negotiate a contract do not have to pay the fee unless Maeda agrees to terms and signs a contract with that team within 30 days. If the Maeda signs with a team, the release fee is then divided in four payments over an 18 month period.
Reports the past two years have linked the Cubs to Maeda. The Cubs interest in Maeda was believed to be at such a level that in November 2014 Jim Duquette listed the Cubs as one of three possible destinations for the talented right-hander.
Maeda was not posted last winter and returned to Hiroshima for his eighth season. Maeda was very good and finished the year with a 15-8 record in 29 starts with a 2.14 ERA and 1.01 WHIP. Maeda gave up 49 runs, 48 earned, on 168 hits with 41 walks and 175 strikeouts in 206 1/3 innings. Maeda won his second Sawamura Award for being the top starting pitcher in the NPB.
Over eight seasons, Maeda compiled a 97-67 record in 218 games, 217 starts, with a 2.39 ERA and 1.04 WHIP. Maeda has 1,233 strikeouts with 319 walks and 1263 hits allowed in 1,509 2/3 innings. Maeda’s career numbers in the Japan Central League are very close to Masahiro Tanaka’s stats from his seven years with the Rakuten Golden Eagles.
Scouts do not see Kenta Maeda as being on the same level as Masahiro Tanaka or Yu Darvish. Plus, Maeda is 6-foot, 160 pounds and turns 28 in April. Tanaka (6-foot-2, 210 pounds) and Darvish (6-foot-5, 220 pounds) were 25 years old during their first season in the majors.
Maeda “doesn’t have overpowering stuff” according to Baseball America. Maeda features a fastball that sits in the 89-93 mph range and can touch 94 mph at times. Maeda has “a tick above-average slider that he leans on heavily, along with a curveball and a changeup.”
Maeda relies on his fastball command, changing location and “mixing up his pitches” to get hitters out. Ben Badler reported that several scouts he spoke with about Maeda “feel comfortable projecting him as an immediate No. 4 starter in a big league rotation.”
During his outings at the Premier 12 Tournament in November “he showed a surprising improvement in his repertoire.” In two starts, Maeda used his changeup as his “best off-speed weapon” and not his slider which “is usually his go-to secondary pitch.” Badler graded his changeup in his first two starts of the tournament as a “plus-pitch.”
In a start against Puerto Rico, Maeda’s changeup “didn’t generate the same rate of swing-and-miss, but it had the same lively action.” His changeup was still better than his slider. And one scout told Badler his “changeup was nasty” to right-handers and left-handers.
The addition of the nasty changeup, if he can throw it consistently, changes his projection according to Baseball America.
Ben Badler reported, “A pitcher with that repertoire, fastball command and track record could more comfortably profile as a No. 3 starter.”
Reports have placed a ceiling of a No. 2 starter in the big leagues on Maeda, while safe projections have him as a No. 4 in a rotation on a first division team.
The Diamondbacks have been linked heavily to Maeda for two years. It is unclear if Tony LaRussa and Dave Stewart will still pursue him after signing Zack Greinke to a record breaking contract. The D-Backs are still believed to be looking for starting pitching.
A report from Yahoo Sports mentions the Dodgers, Giants, Mariners, Cardinals and Cubs as teams that might have interest in Maeda. But a report from Jon Heyman indicated the Dodgers have already reached out to Maeda’s camp. And there is speculation in the Japanese media that Maeda would prefer to sign with the Dodgers.
As for what it might take to sign Maeda, estimates have ranged from five to six years and $60-90 million, plus the $20 million release fee.
It will be interesting to see which teams separate themselves from the pack in the negotiations with Kenta Maeda once he is officially posted.