HomeMLB RumorsCubs To Sign Shota Imanaga

Cubs To Sign Shota Imanaga

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The Cubs are in agreement with NPB left-hander Shota Imanaga on a deal, reports Bob Nightengale of USA Today (X link). The contract is pending a physical, which is scheduled for tomorrow. Imanaga’s deal must be finalized before his 45-day posting window closes at 5:00 pm EST on Thursday.

It’s the first MLB free agent pickup of the offseason for the Cubs. It’s a big acquisition, as the southpaw is one of the more intriguing pitchers in this year’s class. Financial terms haven’t yet been reported, but it’s fair to presume it’s a notable multi-year pact. At the beginning of the offseason, MLBTR predicted a five-year, $85MM pact for Imanaga. Recent reporting has suggested he could top $100MM.

Imanaga has spent the past eight seasons with the Yokohama BayStars in his home country. He owns a career 3.18 ERA in a league generally regarded as the second-best level in  the world. Imanaga has turned in a 3.08 or better in each of the past three seasons, including a sub-3.00 figure for the last two years.

During the 2023 campaign, he allowed 2.80 earned runs per nine through 148 innings. He led all NPB hurlers with 174 strikeouts, narrowly topping Dodgers’ $325MM signee Yoshinobu Yamamoto in that regard. That’s an impressive 29.2% clip that’s well above the 22.1% MLB average. He paired that with a tidy 4% walk rate, ranking him among NPB’s best pitchers at dominating the strike zone.

Despite the strong strikeout and walk profile, Imanaga doesn’t come with the kind of excitement generated by Yamamoto. That’s in part due to age. Having turned 30 last September, Imanaga is a typical age for a first-time free agent starter. More importantly, his repertoire points more toward a projection as a solid mid-rotation arm than a potential ace.

Evaluators with whom MLBTR spoke before the offseason suggested Imanaga profiles as a #3/4 arm in a big league rotation. Baseball America’s Kyle Glaser pegged him as a #4/5 type in a scouting report from early December. The 5’10” hurler typically sits in the low-90s with his fastball, touching the 94-95 MPH range in shorter stints.

Evaluators have credited him with above-average life on the pitch, allowing it to play for whiffs at the top of the strike zone despite the pedestrian velocity. Glaser writes that Imanaga backs that up with an above-average split but suggests his MLB upside may be capped by middling breaking stuff.

The main concern in Imanaga’s statistical profile has been the longball. He surrendered 17 homers last season, the second-most out of any NPB pitcher. While some of that is attributable to workload — he was 15th in innings pitched — it hints at a fly-ball profile that could give some evaluators pause. The Yankees reportedly stayed on the periphery of the bidding in part because of concerns that Imanaga wouldn’t profile well in a very hitter-friendly home park. Statcast’s Park Factors rate Wrigley Field as slightly favorable to home runs, but it’s not among the top handful of hitting venues in MLB.

More to come.

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