Red Sox to Sign NPB Star?

After bolstering their outfield by signing Nippon Professional Baseball star outfielder Masataka Yoshida, the Red Sox seemingly aren’t done doing business in Japan. The team has been linked to another star from Japan’s top baseball league. No, it’s not Kodai Senga, who was also in talks with the Sox.

MLB Trade Rumors’ Anthony Franco reported the Red Sox are among three teams looking to land 28 year-old right-hander, Shintaro Fujinami. Franco also notes that the Diamondbacks and Giants are two other teams reported to have an interest in Fujinami.

Though with the Giants’ recent signings of Carlos Correa, Ross Stripling, and Sean Manaea, their infield and rotation are starting to look a little crowded.

As of this writing, the Red Sox appear to have a plethora of starting pitching. Plus some depth in the minors, as noted by Gabrielle Starr of FanSided. The current Sox rotation of Sale, Pivetta, Whitlock, Houck, and Bello is certainly intriguing.

However, it’s been widely reported that Chaim Bloom is still looking to add another starting pitcher. This makes sense, as Sale’s health is a constant question mark. Houck, along with Verdugo, are reportedly potential trade chips.

Japan’s pitcher Shintaro Fujinami pitches against the Netherlands in the sixth inning of their international exhibition series baseball game at Tokyo Dome in Tokyo, Saturday, Nov. 12, 2016. (AP Photo/Toru Takahashi)

Fujinami Brings the Heat

Thus enters Fujinami. The 6 foot 6 inch, 180-pound righty boasts a fastball reaching 101 mph. Notably, the only other NPB star to throw this kind of heat was Shohei Ohtani. Shohei was also a high-school rival of Fujinami’s, as reported by Scott Neville. The velocity has earned Fujinami the flamethrower tag, but the righty also throws a slider and a splitter.

Fujinami has continuously battled control issues, however. Despite carrying a career ERA of 3.17, the right-handed flamethrower has spent significant time bouncing around. He’s spent time in between the Hanshin Tigers and their minor league affiliate. Concerns about the righty are summed up below:

“Increasingly, the 6’6″ righty battled control problems. That erratic strike-throwing led the Tigers to shuttle him back-and-forth between NPB and their minor league affiliate frequently through 2019. He spent the majority of his time at Japan’s top level in 2020-21 but posted respective ERA’s of 4.01 and 5.21. Fujinami again split his 2022 campaign between NPB and the minors, only throwing 66 2/3 innings at the highest level.”

Anthony Franco, MLB Trade Rumors

A Diamond in the Rough?

Even with the control issues and slight inconsistencies, Fujinami is a stud. He maintained a sub-3.00 ERA of 2.77 through 25 appearances and 107 innings pitched in the 2022 season. MLBTR does note that only 66 2/3 of those innings were at the NPB level. It also noted that this came after one of his worst seasons in 2021. In the 2021 season, he posted a 4.21 ERA through 29 appearances and 87 innings pitched.

With the recent additions of Chris Martin, Joely Rodriguez, and Kenley Jansen, the Red Sox bullpen is looking healthy and a little crowded. Taking all this into consideration, the Sox might choose to make additions elsewhere.

Fujinami could be an intriguing addition to the bullpen or the rotation. Especially when you have someone like Darwinzon Hernandez (5.06 career ERA) still listed in the bullpen at the MLB level.

The righty also has 87 career starts under his belt. He however hasn’t started any games since 2017. That being said, given Boston’s history of attempting (with some success) to rehab pitchers signed at a discount, it’s worth keeping Fujinami in mind.

MLBTR notes that it would be surprising for an MLB contract for Fujinami to go north of $25M. Given the current front-office approach to signings, this could be appealing to Sox ownership and management.

Fujinami’s availability to MLB teams via the posting system began on December 1. So, teams would have until January 15 to sign him. After that, he would remain as a member of the NPB Hanshin Tigers for the 2023 season.

Featured photo by Atsushi Tomura/Getty Images

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