The Rays agreed to a minor league deal with right-hander Naoyuki Uwasawa earlier this month, as Uwasawa will test his fortunes in the majors after nine seasons with the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters of Nippon Professional Baseball. The contract’s terms weren’t reported at the time, but MLB.com’s Adam Berry has the details on what is actually a split contract for the Japanese righty.
Uwasawa will earn $225K while in the minors and $2.5MM for his time on the big league roster. He also receives a $25K signing bonus up front, and up to $1MM in incentive bonuses based on innings pitched. The first bonus level of $100K would be unlocked if Uwasawa pitches 70 innings for the Rays, and he’d then receive an additional $100K for each additional ten innings pitched up to the 160-inning threshold.
Tampa Bay also owe the Fighters a posting fee, though the exact total of that fee has yet to be determined given the largely non-guaranteed nature of Uwasawa’s contract. For now, the Fighters will receive the equivalent of one-quarter of Uwasawa’s signing bonus, and then will eventually be paid 15% of whatever Uwasawa ends up making during the 2024 season.
Interestingly, Berry reports that Uwasawa opted to take this contract over guaranteed offers from other MLB teams. It isn’t know what other offers might have entailed in terms of money, length, or any number of other factors that might’ve led Uwasawa to prefer Tampa’s offer, but it might have simply come down to the fact that Uwasawa had particular interest in joining the Rays. As per his statement at the time of the signing, Uwasawa “decided to play for the Rays because the success and the rich history of pitching development really intrigued me,” so it could be that Uwasawa decided to somewhat bet on himself in taking a slightly lesser deal in order to land on one of his preferred options.
The relationship between the two sides could also technically end before Opening Day, as Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times writes that the contract contains an out clause at the end of Spring Training. However, in all likelihood the out clause is just a formality of minor league deals and Uwasawa will choose to stay in the Rays organization, even if he doesn’t necessarily break camp with the team. The Rays could use Uwasawa in the minors to get him acclimated to North American baseball and to see how his stuff plays in a proper game setting before giving him a look on the active roster.
Uwasawa posted a 3.19 ERA over 1118 1/3 career innings with the Fighters, delivering both quality results and durability — he has thrown at least 160 innings in four of the last five full NPB seasons. With only a 19.7% career strikeout rate and a fastball that averaged under 91mph last season, there are concerns from evaluators about whether or not Uwasawa will be able to fool MLB hitters as successfully as he did in Japan. But, as Berry and Uwasawa himself observed, the Rays have such a strong reputation for developing and/or getting pitchers on track that it seems entirely possible that Uwasawa could blossom under the team’s wings.