Yomiuri Giants right-hander Tomoyuki Sugano could be posted for Major League teams this winter, Joel Sherman of the New York Post reports. It’s not yet certain that he’ll be made available, but the Giants are considering the move for one of the more accomplished pitchers in Japan given that he’ll be eligible for unrestricted international free agency next winter. Sherman adds that NPB’s Nippon Ham Fighters may post a pair of players themselves: fellow righty Kohei Arihara and outfielder Haruki Nishikawa.
Sugano, who recently turned 31, is the most prominent name of the bunch and the most relevant for MLB fans. He had a tough 2019 season, by his standards (3.89 ERA) but has otherwise posted an ERA of 2.14 or better each season since 2015. Overall, dating back to Opening Day 2015, he’s notched a highly efficient 2.20 ERA with 8.2 K/9 and 1.7 BB/9 over the course of 1015 1/3 innings out of the rotation. He’s a six-time All-Star in Japan and a two-time winner of NPB’s Sawamura Award — their league’s equivalent of MLB’s Cy Young Award.
MLB fans may remember Sugano from an impressive showing in the 2017 World Baseball Classic — one that prompted U.S. skipper Jim Leyland to offer high volumes of praise for the righty.
“I can’t tell you, for me, tonight, how impressed I was with their pitcher,” Leyland said at the time (link via MLB.com’s Joe Trezza). “I mean, I thought he was really good. Located on the ball on the outside corners, fastball. Threw 3-0 sliders. That’s pretty impressive.” Leyland plainly called Sugano a “big league pitcher” after that game. (Those interested can check out all 81 of Sugano’s pitches from that game in this YouTube clip.)
Team USA’s Andrew McCutchen also acknowledged that Sugano was impressive in that outing, during which he held a deep U.S. roster to one unearned run over six innings with six strikeouts and a walk. Sugano’s fastball averages 92-93 mph and, like his curveball, boasts a strong spin rate. Sports Info Solution’s Will Hoefer took a look at him last October, calling him at least a No. 4 starter in the big leagues, and that was after an injury-hindered campaign as opposed to the strong 2020 showing Sugano just authored.
The Giants have yet to make a formal declaration on Sugano’s status, although that’s not a surprise given that they’re still alive in NPB’s postseason format. Sherman notes that the typical window during which NPB clubs can post a player has been pushed back to Nov. 8-Dec. 12, which will buy the Giants a bit more time in making their ultimate decision. The NPB Climax Series is expected to run through late November.
Turning to the 28-year-old Arihara, he’s a former rotation-mate of Shohei Ohtani, so big league scouts have surely gotten ample looks at him over the years. Arihara spent much of the early portion of his career working to ERA marks in the mid-4.00s, but he’s seen improved results since 2019, with a 2.93 mark and a 265-to-68 K/BB ratio in 292 frames.
Hoefer also profiled him late last year, noting that Arihara’s fastball runs up to 95 mph but has a pretty wide variance in terms of its velocity. Hoefer pegged Arihara’s changeup as his lone plus offering but noted that his splitter and slider are potentially average offerings. Arihara won’t turn 29 until next August, so he’s younger not only than Sugano but than just about any MLB free-agent starter of note.
Nishikawa, 29 in April, hit .296/.419/.388 with just five homers, 15 doubles and three triples this year, although he also swiped 37 bags in 42 tries. He’s posted an OBP of .378 or better in each of the past four seasons while striking out in 16.5 percent of his plate appearances against a 14.3 percent walk rate. Nishikawa has three stolen base titles, three Gold Gloves in the outfield and a pair of All-Star nods in NPB. He made it known last offseason that he hoped the Fighters would post him for big league clubs this winter.
For those in need of a refresher or a crash course on the current posting system between Major League Baseball and Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball, it’s a fairly straightforward process. Unlike the old blind bidding system, players posted by an NPB or KBO club are free to negotiate with all 30 clubs. So long as they’re over 25 years of age and have six-plus years of MLB service — each of Sugano, Arihara and Nishikawa do — they’re able to sign Major League contracts of any length for any amount.
In addition to the money paid to the player, his new team in MLB must also pay a release fee to the former NPB/KBO club. That fee correlates directly with the size of the contract. MLB clubs pay a sum of 20 percent of a contract’s first $25MM to the former team. The fee also includes 17.5 percent of the next $25MM and 15 percent of any dollars spent thereafter.
The release fee is on top of the actual contract for the player. So, for example, a $50MM contract would cost a team a total of $59.375MM — $50MM to the player and $9.375MM to the former club. Option years and incentives/bonuses are also factored in if they are eventually unlocked (e.g. a $10MM club option tacked on top of the previous theoretical $50MM deal would require the MLB club to pay $1.5MM to the former team once it is picked up — 15 percent of the guarantee beyond $50MM).