Koji Uehara Rumors

Red Sox Sign Koji Uehara To Two-Year Extension

The Red Sox announced that they have signed right-hander Koji Uehara to a two-year extension that runs through the 2016 season. Alex Speier of WEEI.com reports that it is a two-year, $18MM contract (Twitter link). Uehara is represented by Mark Pieper of Relativity Sports.

Koji Uehara

Uehara, who turns 40 next April, has thrived over the past two seasons in Boston, rising from elite setup man to All-Star closer in short order. Though he finished 2014 on a negative note — he yielded 10 runs over his final 7 2/3 innings and pitched just five time in September due to arm fatigue — Uehara has overall been nothing short of outstanding in Boston.

In 138 2/3 innings for the Red Sox, Uehara has pitched to a pristine 1.75 ERA with 11.7 K/9 and 1.1 BB/9. He was a postseason hero during the Red Sox’ 2013 World Series run, allowing one run in 13 2/3 innings and winning ALCS MVP honors after appearing in five of the six games in that series. Though not a flamethrower, Uehara racks up strikeouts thanks to an exceptional split-finger. This past season, the only pitcher in all of Major League Baseball who posted a higher swinging-strike rate than Uehara’s 18.8 percent was Aroldis Chapman.

Uehara figures to be the first significant signing of what should be an active offseason for the Red Sox, who appear to have no plans to go into rebuilding mode on the heels of a last-place finish in 2014. Rather, the Red Sox prioritized adding MLB-ready help at the trade deadline and are expected to pursue at least one top starting pitcher on the open market in the offseason. Boston has also been connected to the likes of Pablo Sandoval and Chase Headley. To that end, Uehara’s contract isn’t a detriment to the team’s long-term outlook. Including Uehara, the Red Sox still have just four contracts on the books for 2016 and only two guaranteed contracts to which they are committed beyond that season. That positions the team well to add at least one significant multi-year pact this winter, if not more.

In my recent free agent profile for Uehara, I pegged him for a one-year, $11MM contract on the open market while noting that I felt he could receive two years at a lower annual value should his preference be for security over the upside of another large one-year deal next offseason. His departure from the free agent market weakens a strong crop of relievers that is headlined by David Robertson and Andrew Miller but also includes Sergio Romo, Pat Neshek, Luke Gregerson and a number of other solid arms.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.


Free Agent Profile: Koji Uehara

Koji Uehara had a meteoric rise to becoming one of the most dominant closers in the game, but the 39-year-old also had a sharp decline at the end of the 2014 season that has seriously clouded his free agent stock.

Strengths/Pros

You’d be hard-pressed to find a relief pitcher — or any pitcher — with definitively better control than Uehara. Since jumping to the Majors in 2009, Uehara has walked 46 batters in 350 1/3 innings, and four of those have been intentional. He’s averaged just 1.2 walks per nine innings over a six-year career, and a dozen of those walks came in his rookie season. He hasn’t walked more than nine batters in any of the past five seasons.

Koji  Uehara

Uehara isn’t just a control artist, however. Armed with a devastating split-finger, Uehara struck out 11.2 hitters per nine innings this season and has averaged 10.6 K/9 in his MLB career. Among pitchers with at least 50 innings pitched, his ridiculous 18.8 percent swinging strike rate in 2014 was second only to Aroldis Chapman.

He battled a bit of shoulder soreness early in the year, but Uehara was able to avoid the disabled list for the second straight season. He’s been on the DL just once in the past four seasons, when he missed a little more than two months with a strained right lat. Overall, he’s been durable and highly effective as a late-inning option for the Orioles, Rangers and Red Sox.

Uehara comes with experience in a setup role and in a closing role. He took over as the closer for the 2013 Red Sox and played a significant role in their World Series victory, posting a 1.09 ERA with 12.2 K/9 and 1.1 BB/9 in the regular season before firing 13 2/3 innings of one-run ball in the playoffs. He struck out 16 hitters without issuing a walk in the postseason and was named ALCS MVP after appearing in five of the six games. Teams will value the fact that he has thrived in a major market and on the game’s biggest stage.

Weaknesses/Cons

Uehara will pitch next season at the age of 40, so clubs will inevitably have some reservation about his age.

The bigger concern for interested teams, however, will likely be the precipitous drop-off in his performance at the end of the season. Uehara yielded 10 runs over his final 7 2/3 innings this past season, leading many to wonder if he had become fatigued after a such heavy workload over the past two years. Uehara pitched only five times in the month of September, as he was shut down for a large portion of the month. Dominant as he’s been, that slide, coupled with his age, is will be seen as a reason for pause.

Uehara has never thrown hard, but his 88.2 mph average fastball last season was the second-slowest of his big league career and represented a noticeable drop from the prior year’s 89.2 mph mark. He also throws more splitters than any reliever in baseball — a pitch that is believed by many to put a high amount of stress on the elbow. Angels manager Mike Scioscia, Rays manager Joe Maddon and former Twins pitching coach Rick Anderson all weighed in on the risks of the pitch in this 2011 piece from the Associated Press.

Personal

Though a clear language barrier separates Uehara from his teammates, he’s learned enough to get by with teammates since moving to the U.S. and is wildly popular among teammates, Brian MacPherson of the Providence Journal wrote late last year. Uehara is a master of using impersonations to get a laugh out of teammates; Brian Matusz spoke kindly of a particularly amusing impression of Jim Johnson, MacPherson wrote. Craig Breslow told MacPherson that no one thinks of Uehara as someone from another continent. “They think of him as one of the guys.” Breslow was complimentary of Uehara’s one-liners, stating that because he didn’t speak quite enough English to build up context, “Every time he opens his mouth, it’s a punchline.” Drake Britton called Uehara “one of the coolest people” he’s ever met.

Uehara is married and has one child. In his time with Boston he’s been active in the community by visiting victims of the Boston Marathon bombing, participating in a golf tournament to benefit a South Florida children’s hospital and participating in a baseball camp for children, among many other events/appearances, per the Red Sox media guide.

Market

The Red Sox have made it known that they want Uehara back in 2015, and there’s mutual interest between the two sides. While they’ve taken the ambiguous stance of stating that they’re not sure whether they’ll extend a qualifying offer, I have to imagine that a QO is firmly out of the question after Uehara’s late-season struggles. While most players prefer the security of a multi-year deal and are therefore disinclined to take the QO, the 40-year-old Uehara almost certainly wouldn’t be able to top that mark and would likely accept.

While Uehara certainly has a good relationship with Boston, he said in an interview with the Boston Globe’s Peter Abraham this summer that he’s willing to go to any club in free agency: “The experience with the Red Sox has been fun. The World Series and now being selected an All-Star. But I don’t have any specific teams that I want to play for. Any team that wants me the most is fine.”

Any team in need of bullpen help on a short-term deal would be interested in Uehara, though given his age, it seems that he would likely limit himself to contending clubs in hopes off reaching another World Series. In addition to the Red Sox, I’d imagine that the Yankees, Dodgers, Tigers, Nationals, Cardinals and Giants could all show interest in Uehara.

Expected Contract

Uehara hasn’t given any indication that he’s only looking to play one more season, so it seems possible that he could get some offers of both the one- and two-year variety. On a two-year deal, given his age and poor results over his final five weeks or so, I have a difficult time envisioning him signing for a fair AAV.

While Uehara certainly may prefer the security of playing on a multi-year deal after going year-to-year for so long, there might not be much upside for him taking a lower AAV to lock in the second year. If he could find a one-year offer similar to the $10MM deal Mariano Rivera signed prior to the 2013 season, Uehara could eclipse his theoretical ceiling on a two-year guarantee even with a somewhat diminished performance in 2015. Unless he blows out his arm, it seems reasonable that he could expect to find $5-6MM next winter with any sort of reasonable success, and possibly quite a bit more.

This seems to me to be a matter of preference for the player (one-year at a higher AAV or two years with some additional security), but the I’m predicting that Uehara will sign a one-year, $11MM contract.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.


Cafardo On Moore, Cespedes, Markakis, Giants

If the Royals win the World Series it would be difficult to imagine GM Dayton Moore leaving for the Braves‘ vacancy.  However, those who know Moore well say that he felt comfortable in Atlanta, Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe writes.  On top of that, the Braves would offer Moore a bigger budget to work with.  More from today’s column..

  • Word is spreading that the Red Sox could make Yoenis Cespedes available.  The slugger will make $10.2MM in the final year of his deal and his desire not to play right field or work on his defense could spell the end of his time in Boston.  A Cespedes deal would allow the Sox to make room for Mookie Betts or add a left-handed hitter.
  • The Giants are a team to watch when Nick Markakis hits the open market as expected.  Even though they’re enjoying Travis Ishikawa‘s work, they are unlikely to commit to him as an everyday left fielder.  The Mets could also be in the mix.
  • One agent believes Jake Peavy has turned his next contract from a one-year, $7MM deal into a three-year, $36MM deal based on his second half with the Giants.  Cafardo notes that the Giants won’t re-sign Ryan Vogelsong and with little help coming from Triple-A, they’ll likely have to bite on a Peavy deal.
  • There have been preliminary talks between the Red Sox and Koji Uehara about staying in Boston,but the sides aren’t close to a deal.


Red Sox Notes: Tomas, Castillo, Uehara, Alvarez

Despite their outfield logjam, the Red Sox will be in attendance for Yasmani Tomas‘ showcase in the Dominican Republic on Sunday, writes Rob Bradford of WEEI.com. Bradford spoke with Boston’s newest outfielder, Rusney Castillo, about his countryman and received strong reviews. “He’s a really high quality baseball player, and a really good person,” said Castillo through an interpreter. “He’s got a ton of power. For his physique, he actually moves pretty well. He’s pretty quick for a big guy.” Castillo agrees with scouting reports that say Tomas isn’t the same athlete that Yasiel Puig or Yoenis Cespedes is, but likened his power to that of Jose Abreu.

More from Bradford and some additional pieces on the Red Sox…

  • Red Sox owner John Henry told Bradford, via email, that the team’s near-miss on Abreu fueled the club’s aggressiveness on Castillo. Boston bid just $5MM less than the White Sox did to secure Abreu, prompting Henry to admit: “Yes, the financial aspects were impacted by coming close on Abreu. The White Sox did their homework.” 
  • GM Ben Cherington appeared on the Dennis & Callahan radio show to discuss a number of Red Sox topics, and WEEI’s Jerry Spar has some highlights. Cherington said that while the team doesn’t consider Castillo to be have one elite tool, they feel he’s very good in a lot of categories and should be a quality Major League outfielder. Cherington stopped short, however, of proclaiming Castillo the team’s center fielder in 2015. (The Arizona Fall League announced today that Castillo will play there this offseason, which should give Boston more time to make that evaluation.) He also addressed the Mookie Betts situation, noting that the team most likely projects Betts as an outfielder moving forward and has not discussed playing him at third base.
  • “I think it’s safe to say we would still have interest in keeping him here,” Cherington said in that same appearance when asked about Koji Uehara. Cherington praised Uehara’s accountability during his recent rough patch, and that accountability is an appealing factor when pursuing a new contract. Boston has yet to make an offer or discuss a new contract with Uehara at this time, per Cherington.
  • As John Tomase of the Boston Herald points out, the Red Sox, by some metrics, have had the worst production in the league at third base. As such, they’ll be on the hunt for third basemen with power this offseason, preferably ones that hit left-handed or are switch-hitters in order to balance out a right-leaning lineup. Tomase expects Pedro Alvarez to be on the team’s list, as the club tried desperately to sign him as a 14th-round pick out of high school back in 2005. Boston was willing to offer Alvarez $850K and showed a late willingness to push the number closer to Alvarez’s $1MM asking price, but he instead attended Vanderbilt. The decision paid off, as Alvarez was drafted No. 2 overall and received a $6MM signing bonus from the Pirates three years later. Tomase speculates that a swap of underachieving third basemen — Alvarez and Will Middlebrooks — might make sense for both clubs (presumably, other pieces would be required in such a deal).
  • The right-leaning nature of Boston’s lineup is the focus of the latest from Tony Massarotti of the Boston Globe, who notes that the Sox currently project to have just one regular lefty bat in the lineup next season — David Ortiz. While others such as Brock Holt, Jackie Bradley and the switch-hitting Daniel Nava could be worked into the mix, the team cannot afford to have such a glaring deficiency, as other clubs will exploit it, writes Massarotti.

AL East Notes: Walker, Maeda, Uehara, Castillo, Melky, Rays

The Orioles announced today that they have selected the contract of first base prospect Christian Walker for the final few games of the season. Walker, 23, was Baltimore’s fourth-round pick in 2013 and batted a combined .288/.357/.489 between Double-A Bowie and Triple-A Norfolk this season. As Roch Kubatko of MASNsports.com explains, Baltimore will take a look at Walker while resting Steve Pearce over the remainder of the regular season. The team was hesitant to add Walker to the 40-man roster, as he did not need to be protected from the Rule 5 Draft this winter, but they decided to give him a mini-audition of sorts (Twitter links). No moves were needed to clear a spot in light of the suspension of Chris Davis, tweets Rich Dubroff of CSNBaltimore.com.

Here’s more from the American League East…

  • The Red Sox have interest in Japanese hurler Kenta Maeda, tweets Rob Bradford of WEEI.com, but that interest is similar to their interest in many free agent starters, including Francisco Liriano. That is to say, according to Bradford, that Boston considers him a middle-of-the-rotation arm rather than an ace to slot atop the team’s starting five.
  • The struggles of Koji Uehara have not changed the interest of the Red Sox in bringing him back, GM Ben Cherington tells Pete Abraham of the Boston Globe (via Twitter). After showing excellent form for much of the season, Uehara’s age-39 campaign took a quick downturn from mid-August onward. He remains a tantalizing free agent, however, given his recent track record of dominance.
  • For the time being, of course, all eyes will be on Rusney Castillo tonight as he makes his debut for the Red Sox. But with so little time left in the season, his real work will come over the winter, as Rob Bradford of WEEI.com reports. Castillo is expected to play in both the Arizona Fall League and the Puerto Rican Winter League as he looks to dial in his play in anticipation of competing for a starting job next spring.
  • Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos expects Melky Cabrera to test the free agent market rather than sign an extension, writes Shi Davidi of Sportsnet. While reports have indicated that Cabrera will receive a qualifying offer and Toronto hopes to retain him on a new multi-year deal, Anthopoulos said that it just makes sense for most players who get to this point to see what’s out there. Anthopoulos added that he’s open to bringing back any of the team’s pending free agents if it makes financial sense.
  • The Rays‘ immediate future is not promising, in the opinion of Gary Shelton of the Tampa Bay Times. With the team expected to oversee a drop in payroll, it will take bounce-backs from several key players (such as Wil Myers and Evan Longoria) to improve the team moving forward. For his part, skipper Joe Maddon says that he foresees a return to form for Tampa, especially given the team’s talented pitching staff. “I just want to believe it’ll be more offensive,” Maddon said of next year’s club. “Whether it’s with the guys who are here or potential acquisitions.”

Olney On Qualifying Offer Candidates

In his latest Insider-only blog, ESPN’s Buster Olney runs down a list of pending free agents that are candidates to receive qualifying offers. Olney spoke with several executives from around the league and is of the mind that James Shields, Max Scherzer, Pablo Sandoval, Melky Cabrera, Russell Martin, Nelson Cruz, J.J. Hardy, Victor Martinez, Ervin Santana, David Robertson and Hanley Ramirez will receive qualifying offers, which should fall between $15MM and $15.5MM.

Here are a few more notes from Olney’s piece…

  • The Giants intend to give Sandoval a QO with the assumption that he will reject the offer and test the open market. San Francisco appears willing to offer him just three years, says Olney, and even going to four years might be too much of a stretch. Such a commitment seems much too light to land Sandoval, who, at 28 years old, will be one of the youngest free agents on the market.
  • It looks like the Dodgers and Ramirez could be moving in separate directions, as rival evaluators anticipate the team will extend a qualifying offer with the expectation that Ramirez signs elsewhere.
  • The value of Martin on a one-year deal, even north of $15MM, makes a QO for the Pirates “an easy call,” one rival GM said to Olney. Some may wonder whether or not Francisco Liriano is a QO candidate, but executives polled by Olney feel that his injury history and lack of innings present too much risk for the Bucs to extend such an offer. I’m inclined to agree; while Martin is a lock to turn down the QO, Liriano would have more hesitancy, and a $15MM salary would represent nearly 21 percent of the Pirates’ Opening Day payroll from 2014.
  • Some evaluators think that Cruz will again find himself with a more limited market than he expects due to his age, 2013 PED suspension and the fact that his OBP and defense are less impressive than his power totals.
  • Many rival executives feel there’s simply no way that the Tigers will let Martinez get away. Olney’s right in noting that a QO is “an easy call” for V-Mart, who currently sports a hefty .333/.401/.567 with a career-high 31 homers.
  • Olney also feels that a QO for Robertson is an easy call. While he notes that teams don’t pay $15MM for closers anymore, one evaluator said to him: “…with any other team, we wouldn’t be talking about this. But it’s the Yankees, and they can do it.” On a somewhat related note, Olney adds that Koji Uehara‘s late-season swoon may be a blessing of sorts for the Red Sox, who can now approach him with an offer much lower than a QO would have been. I noted in yesterday’s MLBTR chat that I’d be more hesitant to give Robertson a QO, but the Yankees could certainly afford to run the risk.

Red Sox Notes: Free Agents, Young Arms, Betts, Uehara

While Red Sox chairman Tom Werner recently implied that the team is likely to do some significant spending on the free agent market this offseason, a source tells Alex Speier of WEEI.com that adding two top-tier pitchers isn’t in the club’s offseason blueprint. The team will likely pursue one ace-caliber pitcher, but the feeling within the organization is that there’s enough talent to fill out a championship-caliber rotation. Joe Kelly and Rubby De La Rosa appear to have spots penciled in, and Clay Buchholz has had a resurgence of late. Beyond those three, the Sox have Brandon Workman, Anthony Ranaudo, Matt Barnes, Allen Webster, Henry Owens, Brian Johnson and Eduardo Rodriguez all in line to compete for rotation spots. It’s still believed that the team will pursue Jon Lester most aggressively, Speier writes, though he also spoke with Rays manager Joe Maddon about the Tampa skipper’s former right-hander, James Shields.

Here’s more on the 2013 World Series champs and their attempt to get out of the cellar in 2015…

  • Webster, Workman and Ranaudo have failed to impress in extended looks at the Major League level this season, writes Brian MacPherson of the Providence Journal. MacPherson has a hard time envisioning GM Ben Cherington heading into the 2015 campaign with two or three unproven arms in the rotation following the struggles that many of the team’s young prospects endured in 2014. Only De La Rosa has shownthe ability to be a piece of next year’s rotation, he concludes. MacPherson spoke with both manager John Farrell and pitching coach Juan Nieves about the struggles that Boston’s young pitchers have endured thus far.
  • In a second piece, Speier writes that Mookie Betts has gone “from blocked to building block,” noting that his versatility and upside may have led to him supplanting Xander Bogaerts as the club’s most untouchable asset in trades. Of course, Dustin Pedroia remains under contract at second base and the team has an enviable outfield logjam, so interest in Betts will likely be high, but Speier opines that Betts should be retained, as his versatility would allow the Red Sox to pursue upgrades at a number of positions in the future, knowing that Betts could be moved around the diamond and still thrive.
  • Koji Uehara told reporters, including Speier’s colleague Rob Bradford, that the life on his splitter still isn’t there. As Bradford notes, Uehara has experienced a late-season downturn like this before, as he struggled greatly at an oddly similar juncture near the end of his tenure with the Rangers in 2011. The displaced closer adds that he’s not thinking about where he’ll play in 2015 or regaining the ninth inning, but rather trying to finish the season on a high note before “see[ing] what happens in free agency.”

Quick Hits: Nix, Astros, Buehrle, Uehara

Every small-market team dreams of building a rotation of young, controllable arms, and Peter Gammons (in his latest piece for Gammons Daily) feels the Indians have done just that in Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, Danny Salazar and Trevor Bauer.  Salazar was signed as an undrafted high schooler and the other three were acquired in trades, giving the Tribe an enviable collection of pitchers for both their wild card push this season and to stay in contention for years to come.

Here’s some more from around the game as we head into the weekend…

  • The Astros have made little progress in negotiations with draft pick Jacob Nix and the situation between the two sides seems likely to proceed to a hearing, CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman reports.  The MLBPA filed a grievance on Nix’s behalf after Houston withdrew an offer to the fifth-rounder that had seemingly been agreed-upon.
  • Astros GM Jeff Luhnow hasn’t decided whether to make his managerial search candidates known to the public, he tells Jose de Jesus Ortiz of the Houston Chronicle.
  • Mark Buehrle‘s future with the Blue Jays is discussed by several Sportsnet writers and broadcasters.  Buehrle will earn $19MM in 2015, his last year under contract, and the feeling amongst the panel is that the Jays could explore trading the veteran in order to free up payroll space.  While Buehrle still has value on the mound and as a mentor to Toronto’s young starters, that might not be worth the $19MM piece he takes out of what could be a limited Jays budget.
  • Koji Uehara will be temporarily replaced by Edward Mujica as the Red Sox closer, manager John Farrell told reporters today (including MLB.com’s Steven Petrella).  Uehara has slumped badly over his last few outings, indicating to Brian MacPherson of the Providence Journal that GM Ben Cherington may have erred in not dealing Uehara at the trade deadline.  Uehara is a free agent this winter and, at the very least, his struggles have eliminated any chance of the Sox extending him a qualifying offer.
  • Right-hander John Holdzkom began his season in independent ball and now may end it on the Pirates‘ Major League roster.  Baseball America’s J.J. Cooper looks at Holdzkom’s seven-year journey through the minors that finally led to his Major League debut last Tuesday.

Red Sox Rumors: Bogaerts, Cespedes, Cherington

Red Sox GM Ben Cherington chatted with reporters just minutes ago and it’s no surprise to hear his admission that the club was not expecting Xander Bogaerts to struggle to this extent in 2014 (via Tim Britton of The Providence Journal on Twitter).    Still just 21, Bogaerts has slashed .226/.293/.339 in 472 plate appearances this season.  Earlier this week, Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe wrote that the struggles of Bogaerts and Jackie Bradley Jr. have left many around the game wondering how good each player truly is.    Here’s more out of Boston..


Cafardo On D’Backs, Red Sox, Lester, Nava

In today’s column, Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe looks at some of the recently suggestions put forth by Red Sox chairman Tom Werner to help make the game more marketable to young people.

Too many people are leaving games in the sixth and seventh innings because they can’t watch 3½-hour games, so they’re leaving the game at the point where the game should be getting exciting,” Werner said. “You wouldn’t make a 3½-hour movie. The NFL makes changes almost on an annual basis. They’re considering making the extra point from 35 yards rather than from the 8-yard line… I respect tradition, but I don’t revere it.”

Among Werner’s ideas: instituting a pitch clock, limiting the number of times a batter can step out of the box, and putting a cap on the number of catcher and pitching coach visits to the mound.  More from today’s column..

  • Diamondbacks manager Kirk Gibson could be on the hot seat and there has been a lot of speculation about Joe McEwing, a third base coach with the White Sox, or Mike Aldrete, the bench coach for the Cardinals.  If Gibson is canned it would mark Tony La Russa‘s first big decision but GM Kevin Towers would also likely to have a say.
  • In a chat with Cafardo, David Ross spoke glowingly of the amenities or “little things” that the Red Sox do for their players and Cafardo wonders if that could keep Jon Lester in Boston beyond this season.  Lester’s family was always taken care of the team’s traveling secretary and while other teams can offer similar services, the consensus among players who have been multiple places is that Red Sox and Yankees are the teams that offer more to their players.
  • Ross tells Cafardo that even though there have been no contract talks with the Red Sox yet, he would like to return.  Boston would certainly love for him to keep working with Christian Vazquez, but Ross’s recent bout with plantar fasciitis has slowed him.  Ross is finishing up a two-year, 6.2MM deal.
  • Daniel Nava drew interest from the Tigers and had interest from the Royals before they traded for Josh Willingham, but he has yet to be put on waivers.  It’s not a certainty that he’ll clear and but the Red Sox will likely put him on revocable waivers later in the month to see what type of interest he’ll get.  The Sox’ outfield looks crowded next season with Allen Craig, Jackie Bradley Jr., Shane Victorino, Yoenis Cespedes, Mookie Betts, and Brock Holt all in the mix so it makes sense to see what can be had for Nava.
  • In a separate tweet, Cafardo reports Nava, Mike Napoli, Koji Uehara, and Will Middlebrooks have been placed on revocable waivers.