While everyone awaits word on whether Masahiro Tanaka will be posted this offseason – we still might not know for another week, by the way – there is another 25-year-old righty who could soon make the jump.
Kenta Maeda is often regarded as the second best starting pitcher in Japan, behind Tanaka, and Ben Badler reports that teams are eyeing Maeda closely. Like Tanaka, his rights are controlled by his team in Japan, but he recently told the Japanese media that he’d like the chance to come pitch in the States. Would his team honor that desire and simultaneously cash in? We’ll see.
I’ve written about Maeda before, but a lot of that is neutered by the anticipated $20 million max bid system. It seems likely that Maeda’s team could get at least one max bid, even if Tanaka is also out there, and then Maeda would simply get a much smaller contract than Tanaka is expected to get.
You can read Badler’s piece for some anonymous takes on Maeda, who sounds like a possible back-of-the-rotation type in the big leagues, but with some upside. His numbers in the NPB, as you’d expect, are quite good.
If Maeda, together with Tanaka, is posted, there are a number of implications. First, and most directly, it’s another controllable arm for the Cubs to pursue. Maeda isn’t Tanaka – just as Tanaka isn’t Darvish – but most still believe he’s a big league caliber starter. His price tag would undoubtedly be lower than Tanaka’s, but there can still be value. (Heck, look at Hisashi Iwakuma – there was very little chatter when he came to the States, relatively speaking, and he’s become a stud for the Mariners.)
On the flip side, another arm on the market means another competitor in the Cubs’ efforts to move Jeff Samardzija, should they decide to take the best offer. Of course, Maeda’s presence could also drive down free agent prices, perhaps allowing the Cubs to steal a bargain in January or February, even if they don’t land Tanaka or Maeda.