Junichi Tazawa: Japanese pitcher headed to US

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.

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:

Categories: Atlanta Braves Dewon Day Junichi Tazawa New York Yankees Virgil Vazquez Yu Darvish

Born on the 37th anniversary of the the day Babe Ruth died (1985) which later became the day Jimy Williams was fired in 2001 (a monumental event at the time), Evan was too young to experience the pain 1986 brought, but a deep wound was sowed in 2003. Since then, Fire Brand has become a blog that Red Sox “club officials read,” as per Peter Gammons. Evan enjoys working out, writing, reading, quality television, science fiction and history and being newly married. He is a professional baseball journalist as well as president of a state non-profit and member of the Board of Directors for a national profit. (Twitter.)

12 Responses to “Junichi Tazawa: Japanese pitcher headed to US” Subscribe

  1. gerry November 10, 2008 at 6:55 AM #

    You betcha he's got the right stuff, and at age 22 could have a solid decade in MLB. But for a minimum of $7M do we also get the cheerleaders and the band? Because this could be our last easy Nippon acquisition. Unless carefully done, this signing could damage our long term relationiship and edge with Japanese Baseball; a short term gain with future negative implications. At this point, I say go for it, as it is expected, unless specifically asked to refrain at some significant level.
    In terms of long term Red Sox success, I would be equally happy to create baseball's top rotation and pen by keeping our own 'right stuff' Buchholz, Bowden, Masterson safe from impending trades of any kind, and sign Sheets or Lowe short term. Signing Juni or Kenshin in addition could add powerful depth long term.

  2. M.A.G November 10, 2008 at 8:47 AM #

    I think is an error to try to maintain at all cost Buchholz, Bowden, and Masterson, because this in fact means we are handicaping ourselves of making any trade of significance, and of acquiring any quality player. Losing an oportunity of acquiring a quality player is very harmful for the club. Can be more harmful, in fact, than losing a good prospect. You use a surplus to fill a hole, this is the correct way of handling bussines. It's a big error to make everyone untouchable, because one of the principal advantages of having a good farm is having quality chips to trade. For me there is only one untouchable in the whole farm: Lars Anderson. Everyone else is expendable for the right player.
    And we have pitching depth, so it's in our own benefit to trade one of our big pitchers to acquire Saltalamacchia. It's a good trade for Texas and Boston. Some people think Saltalamacchia is a risk, but you can say the same thing about Buchholz. Buch has had a HORRIBLE first season. We all think he is more than what he has shown this year, but, again, the same thing can be said about Salty.

  3. M.A.G November 10, 2008 at 8:54 AM #

    And about Tazawa: Sign him. No matter if he is expensive. He cost only money and we have lot of money.

  4. 080808 November 10, 2008 at 9:20 AM #

    About Darvish, he's got pissed off not getting Sawamura award (Japanese CY). Apparently he deserved it (similar to Pedro 2002).
    not sure how that affects posting timing, though.

  5. JaredK November 10, 2008 at 10:56 AM #

    The fastest pitch I saw was 149 km/h (once) which is 92.58 mph and I have read that he is mostly in the low 90's. The curve looks good and the splitter at the 7:50 mark has some nice action. Would love to add this guy for just $$. I bet he would start in high-a Salem to get some confidence and to avoid the blustery 40 degree Portland weather (wonder how much he has pitched in cold weather/outdoors) but I bet he could move to Portland quickly if we got him. If we did get him, coupled with a healthy Hagadone it would certainly make losing a Bowden or Bucholz easier, especially if we added a free agent arm into the mix.

  6. JaredK November 10, 2008 at 11:05 AM #

    According to MLBTradeRumors.com the A's have gotten Matt Holiday….weird. Hope he gets to see all of Oakland by July 31st.

  7. gerry November 10, 2008 at 12:41 PM #

    Amazing about Holliday. Some rebuilding, BB. Howzabout Coco for Street.
    Hadadone and Tazawa is quite a vision. Let's hope Hagadone gets it all back following surgery. But for now, we can't rely on either one.
    My line of reasoning, MAG, comes from earlier discusseions re: spending the money on pitching, not hitting. On review, the Sox were one of the best hitting teams in 2008, tops or near the top in most categories, and will get better in 2009 with healthy Papi, JD, Mike, Jed, Ells, etc.
    Other than a good hitting catcher and rebuilding the bench for power (Bailey, Thurston, VanEvery or Baldelli), the team is well set for an absolutely huge year on offense and defense.
    But we are truly hurting for pitching, where we don't rank nearly as well, and consistently rank behind the Yankees, Rays and Jays. We can't trade from surplus because there is no surplus anymore, and we don't have depth. The Sox started 2008 with Schilling, Ace-Beckett, Lester, Wake, Tavarez, Ace-to-be-Buchholz, and Snyder, Hansack, Bowden, Masterson, Richardson, Hagadone in the wings, and maybe Colon and Freddie Garcia down the road. But injuries took their toll.
    Schilling, Tavarez, Colon, Snyder, Garcia are gone. Beckett, Wake, Hagadone experienced injury, as did Hansack, Snyder, Gronk, and others. For 2009, Buchholz and Bowden need time in AAA, and Masterson is in the Pen.
    In 2009 we have:
    Beckett (hurt?), Daisuke, Lester, Wake (hurt?). Where's #5? We don't have one, besides Masterson.
    Question: Do we get another Ace (I know we like CC, but Sheets would do the job) in case Beckett or Wake go down? or do we get another competent Byrd like innings-eater, and forget about the WS.
    Without a major signing, my suggestion to start Masterson into May, and bring up Buc or Bo, is the only alternative to Byrd or equivalent.
    Neither Buchholz nor Bowden, both potential top of rotation SP's, will be ready to start 2009, but they will be getting ready in May-June, in time to move Masterson back to the Pen, or to cover an injured Wake or Beckett. Neither Tazawa nor Hagadone should be ready before Sept. 1. Our only remaining depth, Pauley and Zinc, could start at MLB level elsewhere, but probably not for the Sox, who will keep them for depth. Hansack is now in the Pen.
    That is our entire rotation: Beckett, Daisuke, Lester, Wake, Buchholz, Bowden. There is No Surplus, and we can't afford to trade any one of them. We have a surplus of outfielders, infielders and catchers in MiLB, but not pitchers.
    We need Salty or Laird or Shoppach, but we need to figure another way, beside Bowden or Buchholz, to acquire one of them.
    On the other hand, I would be very happy to find a way to keep the Captain, and bring up Brown or Kottaras (both good bats) who appear ready, can catch knucklers, and have already caught Lester, Wake, Buchholz, Bowden, Masterson, Lopez, Bard, Jones, Gronk; and led Pauley & Zinc to a combined 28 – 9 season in the I.L. and Zinc's Pitcher of the Year award while doing so. Tek/Brown or Salty/Cash and no Buchholz or Bowden.
    One of my main arguments for acquiring Shoppach instead, besides his level of readiness, 22HR, good D and arm, and PawSox pedigree, is that the Indians are looking for RP, where we DO have a surplus in Delcarmen, Jones, Bard, Hull, Gronk, Hansack, or even Aardsma and Lopez. A loss here would be far easier to replace.

  8. M.A.G November 10, 2008 at 2:55 PM #

    Gerry, I understand and respect your point of view. But I think you are being a little too pesimistic about the condition to our rotation. Beckett and Wake have experienced problems this year, but, at least for what I have know, neither of them has a major injury to worry about. So I expect both of them will be healthy and ready for the next season. Wake will be the reliable back end of the rotation we all know. And when Beckett is healthy he is one of the best pitchers in all Baseball, and the one I want to have in the mound in October.
    I understand injury is always a problem with many pitchers. But I don't see any reason to asume beforehand Wake and Beckett will be out next season. So, from my point of view, we have just one hole in the rotation right now, and two pitchers in the farms: Buchholz and Bowden.
    By the way, Buchholz and Bowden are not ready to fill the hole yet. So I think we have to acquire another arm anyway. I would like to go after CC, but even if the FO dont want him, we have to go after Lowe, Kawakami or another FA.
    So, I expect to trade one of Buchholz or Bowden for the catcher we need, and replenish our depth with Tazawa.

  9. M.A.G November 10, 2008 at 3:27 PM #

    About Brown and Kottaras, they will never be more than backup catchers in the majors. I respect Tek for his career, but let's face the truth: the guy is finished, and will be a great mistake to overpay for him. Specialy when you have the oportunity of acquiring his succesor.
    And I don't see the indians trading Shoppach for anything less than Buchholz. In fact, no team will be more reasonable than Texas, because they NEED to move some of his surplus. Shoppach will be more expensive than Salty. And I prefer Salty.

  10. gerry November 10, 2008 at 7:50 PM #

    You may be right, but I don't understand why no other choices are being discussed except Buc and Bo. It is a negotiation, after all.
    Until we sign another "Ace", and increase depth for the rotation, there is no SP surplus to trade, because we currently have a total of 6 pitchers, including Buchholz and Bowden, who are in Pawtucket. Scary. I guarantee you that Theo is working on this as, you and I have already agreed, pitching and catching are the priorities of 2009.
    You were right about Martin, and I think you are right about Salty, too, (though Laird, TG, Shoppach and others would do the job) and would give up a lot to get him, and we have it to give, as we are loaded with top talent in other positions they can use.
    You are also right that, because they have so many catchers, they NEED to move some of THEIR surplus, which means, IMO, Salty's price is very negotiable, as long as we meet legitimate needs . . . as they will trade two catchers this year.

  11. M.A.G November 11, 2008 at 9:06 AM #

    Well Gerry, I think we are basically in agreement. I understand your reluctance in trading pitchers, and that’s why I think, once we acquire our next catcher, pitching should be the next priority. That’s one of the reasons I hate the Teixeira rummors so much. Our money should be invested in pitching and only pitching.
    But catching is the first priority IMO. And as much as I would like to explore another options besides Buchholz or Bowden, the truth is I don’t see many other valuable chips to offer right now.
    So even when I recognize the advantages of keeping Buchholz and Bowden, I think the possibility of securing a quality catcher for the future outweights the dangers of losing some pitching depth. The catcher is the cornerstone of a team IMO.

  12. JH November 14, 2008 at 1:44 PM #

    For what its worth, the Japanese announcers said among the following:
    1) In the 3rd inning, they said Tazawa was deliberately pitching to contact rather than strikeouts, yet appeared to be in full command. He had thrown just 26 pitches.
    2) Again in the 3rd inning, they said that Tazawa had not allowed any ball to get past the infield. I think this held true through to the end of the clip(end of the 5th), if I’m not mistaken.
    3) They said the 12-6 curveball was a lost art in Japanese baseball, but which happily seems to be making a comeback of late. (Tazawa seems to have good fun with that pitch and shows good control, from what I saw.) I’m somewhat skeptical whether its a reliable out pitch at MLB level.
    4) 144 kilometers/hour is the equivalent of 90 MPH. So 150KPH is between 93 and 94. His fastball doesn’t seem to have a ton of movement, if you ask me. (Japan pro league reportedly saw its first 100+ mph pitcher this year, some ex-MLB journeyman reliever I’ve never heard of.)
    5) Tazawa ended the Youtube clip with a flourish, finishing thus with 8 K’s through five innings.
    I don’t know what the US equivalent level of industrial league baseball is. I didn’t even realize such games were televised. I’m not an expert (I live in France, not Japan), but I believe Japanese professional teams only maintain one or two levels of farm ball. They generally do draft the top known phenoms straight out of the big high school tournament(e.g. Dice K), and its also not all that rare that these kids make the opening day pro roster as teenagers (e.g. Ichiro or Dice K). This would be unheard of in MLB.
    By contrast, I believe ball players like Tazawa would be classified as amateurs, in that they are technically company employees, sort of like the CCCP ice hockey teams back in the days of the Soviet Union.
    He is what he is right now….basically an amateur ballplayer that would be a college senior in the US, or as high as double-A ball I suppose.
    BTW, I noticed that Dice-K’s ex-team (the Seibu Lions)actually won the Japan Series this year. They must have really spent their 51 million posting fee wisely.