Free Agent Stock Watch: Koji Uehara

As his two-year contract with the Orioles nears its conclusion, righty Koji Uehara is restoring some value.  He sports a 1.91 ERA, 9.8 K/9, and 1.6 BB/9 in 28.3 relief innings and has quietly slipped into the team's closer role.

Uehara, 35, pitched well as a starter in 2009, but his season ended in June due to hamstring and elbow woes.  He began this year with more of the same, but has been healthy for the last two months as a late-inning reliever.

Uehara was signed as the Orioles' first-ever Japanese player in January of 2009.  HIs two-year, $10MM contract included $6MM worth of incentives for innings pitched and games finished that he was not able to reach.  His path with the Orioles was not surprising; in June of 2008 NPB Tracker's Patrick Newman outlined Uehara's injury history and success coming out of the bullpen in '07.  The contract indicates the Orioles were aware of the possibility that Uehara would switch to relief at some point.

Teams are more cautious in free agency now than they were two years ago.  Plus, Uehara is no longer a mysterious figure.  He's an injury-prone right-handed reliever who will be coming off a strong half-season at age 36 – not unlike Brendan Donnelly after the '09 season.  Uehara's agent Mark Pieper would do well to get his client a $2MM guarantee this time around.


13 Responses to Free Agent Stock Watch: Koji Uehara Leave a Reply

  1. myname_989 5 years ago

    I’m surprised that he wasn’t placed / claimed on waivers, if he’s having such a decent second half. Just about every team in baseball needs bullpen help, and since the Orioles are out of it, you’d think they’d appreciate the salary relief.

  2. bleachercreature 5 years ago

    wow he’s 35? Why did the Orioles even sign a 34 year old injury prone possible reliever and to such a high contract to boot? I thought this guy was young, that’s disappointing to hear and sounds like a poor deal…like most japanese players are.

    • Dave_Gershman 5 years ago

      Most Japanese players are not poor deals. I’d say most are good productive deals. And he has actually done a great job since he’s been healthy this season. Theres a good chance he could be a valuable pitcher on the market this off-season. And he has crazy, crazy sideburns as well. Which helps his closer stock.

      • bleachercreature 5 years ago

        it’s not that they’re bad players, most are decent players, but they’re given these ridiculous contracts, over hyped (which might be America’s fault) and are already old. Who has really been that great out of Japan? Ichiro, Matsui, Saito and Kuroda have been solid so far and Sin Soo Chu on the Indians is actually a pretty good player. But who else can be put in that category?

        Fukadome is ok but over paid, Matsusaka has been highly overrated and the only reason he was considered elite was because he had the Red Sox offense making it impossible for him to lose, now that it has fallen apart he’s kind of slipped. Kei Igawa was just in response to Matsusaka because apparently everyone needs a Japanese player and he turned out to be a $50 million bust.

        If anyone has any other examples of really good japanese players that i may have overlooked i’d like to hear because i’ve really lost faith in that entire process.

        • Full list of all 42 players here.

          link to en.wikipedia.org

          The ones with any significant impacts not on your list:

          Hideo Nomo (Dodgers)
          Shigetoshi Hasegawa (Mariners)
          Isuro Tanaka (Indians, couldn’t help myself)

        • Jason_F 5 years ago

          Shin-Soo Choo is South Korean, not Japanese.

          • bleachercreature 5 years ago

            oh my mistake, i remember that now. Is Japan the only country that has the whole posting process or are there other leagues in other countries? This makes the list of relevant Japanese players even fewer

          • Jason_F 5 years ago

            I’m fairly sure Japan is the only country with the posting process. I don’t think any other country has a baseball league that is worthy of setting up such a system.

      • Curt 3 years ago

        If I was the O’s can could sign for the right price. I take him back in a N Y second.

    • bigpat 5 years ago

      Most guys don’t come over from Japan very young, look at Kuroda and Saito.
      The Orioles needed a starting pitcher and that’s what he was advertised as when he first came over. However, he was never able to stay healthy and seemingly found his niche as a reliever. He’s just very overpaid now, but at least they have a future in the Japanese market since they treated him well.

      • ugen64 5 years ago

        he’s not “very overpaid”. Fangraphs has him at around 2.8 WAR for the two seasons combined. $4 mil guaranteed for 2.8 WAR is not a huge overpay, even in this economy (I imagine he probably reached around $6-7 million after incentives – still a decent contract). in terms of WAR this season, he ranks 31st among the 292 relievers who pitched more than 10 innings (counting some swingmen like Kris Medlen and Hisanori Takahashi). the main reason is that he’s been used a lot in high leverage situations recently. I think it’s impressive he put up these numbers despite only throwing 66 IP as a starter and 28 IP as a reliever…

        of course, these numbers are all using FIP, and Uehara has been rather lucky on HR/FB%. so I wouldn’t say we should expect Uehara to post a 1.91 ERA as a reliever projecting into the future (xFIP says 3.37, which is still a darn good high leverage reliever). but in terms of real performance, he has been pretty decent, even with the injuries.

        • Jason_F 5 years ago

          I think you have the base salaries wrong…he is getting $5M per season (09-10), with the incentives being added to that figure. From what I can tell, he hasn’t reached any of those incentives.

  3. niched 5 years ago

    Koji is an injury risk, but when he’s healthy he is really good. I’m sure the O’s want him back next year as a late inning reliever/closer.

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