As has been common knowledge, 22-year old Japanese pitcher Junichi Tazawa requested that the Japanese pro league, Nippon Pro Baseball, not draft him in the amateur draft, allowing him to jump to the major leagues immediately.
Now that the NBP has officially acceded to his wishes, the market for Tazawa will only grow. At last glance, the Boston Red Sox are in a field of suitors that include the Atlanta Braves, Chicago Cubs, Detroit Tigers, Philadelphia Phillies, Pittsburgh Pirates and Seattle Mariners — and more, to be sure. (But not the Yankees.) The price to sign Tazawa, an unproven pitcher, may spiral to $7 million or more according to Mark Shapiro, the Cleveland Indians’ general manager. (Shapiro has indicated his team is not in the running for Tazawa.)
Tazawa throws a mid-90s fastball, a 12-to-6 curve, a split-fingered fastball and slider, according to several reports. If true, he looks to be an excellent pitching specimen at the young age of 22 and could advance quickly to the major leagues.
Frank Wren, the Atlanta Braves’ general manager, has made his intentions clear as he has already offered Tazawa a multiyear major league contract, raising the ante for other teams that may be unwilling to put Tazawa on the 40-man roster, start his service time clock and throw him in the major leagues quickly. For someone who has been called another Tim Hudson, this may not be such a bad thing.
As recently as six days ago, the Red Sox were considered the leading suitor for Tazawa’s services, which was a day before the Braves’ multi-year, major league contract became known.
RedSox.com lists 43 players on the Sox’s 40-man roster, but we know that several of these players will become free agents, which knocks the number down to at least 36. There would be room on the 40-man for the Sox to add Tazawa if so inclined, especially if they outrighted recent pitcher acquisitions Dewon Day and Virgil Vasquez.
Day, 28, had an 11.25 ERA in 12 innings for the Chicago White Sox in 2007. He has an excellent slider and suffered through a poor season at Double-A this year after the White Sox tried to convert him to a starter. He has poor command.
Vasquez, 26, has a career 8.26 ERA in 16.2 innings (three starts, two relief apperances) for the Detroit Tigers in 2007. He is homer-prone with a fringe fastball but has solid command.
It would come as no surprise if the two were outrighted off the 40-man roster (they could still stay Red Sox and pitch in Pawtucket unless another team claimed them) to make room for Tazawa if needed.
Tazawa is unable to sign with any team until the end of the month, as he completes a tournament.
As mentioned earlier, the Yankees apparently aren’t interested in Tazawa, and have been scouting Yu Darvish instead. Darvish, who is certain to receive a posting bid millions more than Daisuke Matsuzaka received, may be posted later this year. Since rumors of this happening have been relatively quiet, I expect Darvish to pitch at least one more year in Japan. Should he become available, however, there is no question that the Yankees will not allow anyone to be outbid for him, especially with the revenue streams from new Yankee Stadium impending.
As for the ramifications of Tazawa defecting to the United States, it has put a strain on the relations between MLB and NPB. NPB earlier announced that they had developed a ban on players defecting to other leagues as amateurs from playing ball in Japan for at two to three years after their return to Japan. Seems like a weak ban if you ask me.
The relations between MLB and NPB were predicated on a gentleman’s agreement that had Major League Baseball not poaching Japanese amateur talent. Tazawa may be the pioneer of Japanese amateur players defecting, much like Hideo Nomo was the pioneer of plying his trade in America. If so, it has been suggested the NPB will strike back in some way, either by pulling out of the World Baseball Classic slated to play in March or signing American amateur talent in return.
It’s likely that the bidding war will begin to heat up once Tazawa finishes his tournament, but I would expect a resolution before the end of the month. Nothing has been suggested that this will be a protracted negotiation by Tazawa.
Here’s an 8:30 minute video of Tazawa pitching: