Japanese ace Kodai Senga is among the most coveted free agent starting pitchers of the offseason for the Chicago Cubs. And, indeed, they are already expected to go after him this winter, as they should. But as it turns out, he’s not the only starting pitcher from Japan who is available this offseason.
According to a story at The Japan Times, righty flamethrower Shuntaro Fujinami of the Hanshin Tigers will be made available via the posting system. That means, unlike Senga, who is a true free agent, whichever team signs Fujinami will also be on the hook for a posting fee, like the Cubs were for Seiya Suzuki (his was ~$14M, but it’s just a sliding scale percent of the overall contract).
I don’t know much about Fujinami other than what’s available online, but I can tell you that he’s a 28-year-old right-hander capable of throwing 100 MPH. And according to The Japan Times, he was “considered the pitching rival of … Shohei Ohtani during high school and early in their professional careers”…. not that you’d get your hopes that high.
Hopping over to Baseball Reference, I can see Fujinami made 25 starts this season, pitching to a 2.77 ERA, albeit over just 107.1 IP. Despite some early-career dominance, Fujinami has dealt with some significant control issues these past few seasons and has been up and down between NPB and the minors because of it (there was a big improvement this season, though).
Walks per 9.0 IP:
And he was able to manage that without dinging his strikeout rate (9.6 K/9 last season, 9.4 for his career).
In any case, given his age and lively heater, I tend to think there will be plenty of MLB teams willing to roll the dice. I just have no sense at what level he’ll be considered. I think he’s far less of a “sure thing” than Kodai Senga – who is, himself, difficult to project like most international free agents, though I do think he’ll have some serious upside. Fujinami seems like an interesting play for the right team — maybe a team with a recently revamped pitching infrastructure that seems to prefer pitchers with big stuff they can mold and tweak … just saying.
Here’s a video breakdown of Shuntaro Fujinami if you’re interested, but note that it’s from before his 2022 rebound season. I can’t help but wonder if his team is trying to cash in on the posting fee now that he’s bounced back a bit. I’m still curious.