Free Agent Stock Watch: Hisanori Takahashi

When the Mets signed lefty Hisanori Takahashi in February, his recent stats in Japan described him as a flyball/command pitcher who could fill a swingman role.  The screwballer's Mets deal came with a $1MM guarantee and $2MM in performance bonuses.  The Pirates, Orioles, Dodgers, Red Sox, Giants, and Padres also expressed interest in Takahashi.

According to David Waldstein of the New York Times, Takahashi's contract includes a provision allowing him to declare free agency on October 31st, creating "a four-week window in which the Mets have exclusive negotiation rights."  Typically the free agent filing period begins the day after the World Series with an exclusive window for teams for fifteen days.  That'd make the filing date between November 1st and November 5th.  The wrinkle: ESPN's Jayson Stark recently wrote that the annual filing, arbitration, and tender dates will be moved up this year.  Allowing players to file before or during the World Series seems unlikely, however, and Takahashi's unique situation is confusing as well.  We'll seek clarification on both fronts.

GM Omar Minaya told Waldstein he hopes to work out a new contract with Takahashi, although keep in mind that Minaya might not last that long at the team's helm.  Takahashi told ESPN's Adam Rubin he likes New York and plans to finish his career in MLB, but not much is known beyond that.  Let's take a look at Takahashi's free agent case.

The Pros

  • Takahashi is versatile, having ably filled roles in the Mets' rotation and bullpen.  At this point, he's actually their closer.  In 64.6 innings as a starter Takahashi posted a 5.01 ERA, 7.5 K/9, 2.9 BB/9, and 1.53 HR/9.  Out of the pen he managed a 2.21 ERA, 9.2 K/9, 3.4 BB/9, and a 0.34 HR/9.
  • He dominated lefties in 2010, posting a 11.05 K/9 while allowing no home runs in 29.3 frames.  He was respectable against righties too.
  • Takahashi is on the border of Type B and nothing at last check, though given the timeframe the Mets probably can't offer arbitration anyway.  He won't cost a draft pick.

The Cons

  • Takahashi's multiple roles in 2010 could work against him – even if he'd like another crack at starting, teams might be more enticed by his relief success.
  • At 36 years old in April, Takahashi is no spring chicken.  He hasn't pitched 150 innings in a season since 2007.  
  • Among those with 100 innings this year, Takahashi's 45.6% flyball rate is the 13th-highest.  His 8.4% rate of home runs per flyball may not last, resulting in more shots leaving the yard in 2011.

The Verdict

Quality lefties are tough to find no matter what the role.  Takahashi's agent Peter Greenberg figures to start out seeking a two-year deal despite his client's age.  The annual guarantee could be around $2.5MM, plus incentives for starts and games finished.

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