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Latest On Shota Imanaga’s Market

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Shota Imanaga is among the more intriguing starting pitchers still on the free agent market. The Japanese left-hander became available to MLB teams on November 27, when he was formally posted by the Yokohama BayStars.

That opened a 45-day window for Imanaga to sign with a major league club. He’ll need to ink a contract with an MLB team by January 11 if he’s to make the jump to North America this offseason. With eight days to go, it’s little surprise Jeff Passan of ESPN reports that Imanaga’s market will gain steam this week. Alex Speier of the Boston Globe reported around Christmas the southpaw was planning a trip to meet with interested teams shortly after the New Year.

The Red Sox, Giants, Mets and Cubs are among the teams that have been connected to Imanaga since his posting window opened. In mid-December, Jon Heyman of the New York Post also listed the Yankees as a team that was keeping an eye on Imanaga as a fallback option if they missed on Yoshinobu Yamamoto.

However, Heyman suggested in an appearance on Bleacher Report this afternoon (X link) that the Yankees weren’t enamored with the southpaw. Imanaga allowed 17 home runs in 148 innings a season ago, the second-most in Japan’s top league. New York’s front office seemingly has concerns about how well he’d profile in a park as hitter-friendly as Yankee Stadium.

Despite the home run concerns, the 30-year-old is going to do quite well financially. Imanaga led NPB with 174 strikeouts while issuing only 24 walks (a meager 4% rate). Some evaluators project him as a mid-rotation starter. Passan reiterated this morning that many executives feel he’ll land a contract in excess of $100MM. That’d be well above the five-year, $75MM pact secured by Kodai Senga last winter even though Senga was arguably coming off a better platform showing.

Senga had allowed just seven homers with a 27.5% strikeout rate and a sparkling 1.94 ERA in 2022. Imanaga had a slightly superior strikeout percentage (29.2%) and allowed 2.80 earned runs per nine last year. Senga was also entering his age-30 season. Unlike Imanaga, he was a true free agent, so the Mets weren’t required to send any compensation to his NPB club. Any team that signs Imanaga would owe the BayStars a fee valued at 20% of the contract’s first $25MM, 17.5% of the next $25MM, and 15% of further spending.

That said, it’s possible teams harbored reservations about Senga’s health that they won’t have regarding Imanaga. The Mets reportedly expressed some trepidation with his elbow during their physical. That obviously didn’t scuttle the deal, but it could’ve factored into his earning potential.

Imanaga may also benefit from the success Senga had in his first MLB campaign. The righty finished runner-up in NL Rookie of the Year balloting after posting a 2.98 ERA across 166 1/3 innings. That Senga looked like more than a mid-rotation starter in his first MLB season could give some clubs added confidence in projecting Imanaga’s ability to handle big league hitters with a fairly similar projection.

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