The Pursuit of Pitching

After two seasons of skeleton-crew starting rotations, the Red Sox are reportedly finally ready to go hard in their pursuit of pitching.

Sean McAdam of Boston Sports Journal reports that Chaim Bloom & Co. “intend to be aggressive” in their quest to land lauded Japanese arm Tomoyuki Sugano. MLB Network’s Jon Morosi reported that the righthand pitcher was posted by the Yomiuri Giants. The posting will take effect at 8 AM ET on Tuesday, at which time, MLB teams will have 30 days to make their pitches, pun intended, to Sugano before the 5 PM ET deadline on January 7, 2021. When the agreement is in place, his former team will get a percentage of his contract.

At 31 years old, Sugano has already made a name for himself in Japan. In 2020, he posted a 1.97 ERA over 137 ⅓ innings, the third-best of his 8-year career. He’s already won the Elji Sawamura Award, their equivalent of the Cy Young, twice, and is a 6-time All-Star. He made his debut with the Giants in 2013, and has since won the league MVP, Japanese Triple Crown, multiple Mitsui Golden Glove Awards, and led the Central League in wins, ERA, and strikeouts multiple times apiece. In the 2017 World Baseball Classic semifinals, he faced many of his soon-to-be teammates or opponents, including Nolan Arenado, Paul Goldschmidt, and Christian Yelich; he held Team USA to one unearned run over six innings. McAdam writes that he “possesses expert control,” despite having a low-90s fastball, but Sandy Koufax will be the first to tell you to prioritize control over velocity any day of the week.

Numerous other teams around the league have already been reported as competition for the Red Sox in this bidding war, including the New York Yankees, San Francisco Giants, and San Diego Padres, who will be without Mike Clevinger next season as he recovers from Tommy John. But the Red Sox have the most experience in this endeavor, having brought many incredible Japanese pitchers to Beantown in the past, including Daisuke ‘Dice-K’ Matsuzaka and Koji Uehara, who were each integral parts of the 2007 and 2013 championships, respectively. Their experience at helping Japanese players transition to MLB and America is a valuable asset that they will undoubtedly flaunt as they attempt to entice Sugano. Dice-K still lives in Brookline, MA for part of each year, and the Red Sox would likely reach out to him to help Sugano feel welcome here, as they did in 2017, when they recruited him to make a video for Shohei Ohtani.

While Boston’s aggressiveness and past successes with fellow Japanese stars will hopefully impress Sugano, they aren’t the most appealing landing spot for a superstar arm compared to playoff-ready teams like the Padres and Yankees. McAdam writes that in 2020, Boston’s starting rotation had the 2nd-worst collective ERA (5.34) in the American League and was tied for lowest average innings per start (4.1). So while Boston has a brighter future coming down the Pike with Chris Sale and Eduardo Rodriguez both slated to make exalted returns to the rotation at some point in 2021 and rookie Tanner Houck’s impressive 3-start debut in September, nothing is guaranteed, especially when it comes to big pitching signing in Boston. Appealing to Sugano is the equivalent of trying to sell someone a house that won’t have walls or plumbing for months and asking them to move in immediately.

But if they can convince Sugano to make Boston his home and their current arms can keep their health on track, Boston’s future suddenly looks much brighter. His signing would not require losing any of their barely-blooming farm system, nor would it drain their international signing accounts, so while he’ll definitely command at least $10 million per year, Boston should pursue Sugano the way Woodward and Bernstein pursued Watergate. It’s time to re-arm and revive this Red Sox team.

Photo: USA Today

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