The Mets are “looking into” right-hander Tomoyuki Sugano as they seek to upgrade their rotation, reports Joel Sherman of the New York Post. Sugano was posted for MLB clubs earlier this month, and teams have until Jan. 7 to complete a contract with him before that posting window expires.
New York has been prominently connected to Trevor Bauer as a potential free-agent target, but numerous reports have indicated over the past week-plus that George Springer is the team’s primary focus at the moment. Sherman agrees, calling Springer the “centerpiece” of their offseason plans. As such, an expectation has emerged that the Mets will look to the second tier of starting pitchers in their search to augment their rotation, and the 31-year-old Sugano is arguably the best of the bunch.
One of the premier pitchers in Japan, Sugano is a two-time winner of the Sawamura Award — Nippon Professional Baseball’s equivalent to MLB’s Cy Young Award. After a “down” 2019 season that saw him log a 3.89 ERA, Sugano rebounded with 137 1/3 innings of 1.97 ERA ball in 2020, averaging 8.6 K/9 against 1.6 BB/9. Dating back to the 2015 season, Sugano has thrown more than 1000 innings with a 2.19 ERA while averaging better than eight strikeouts and fewer than two walks per nine frames. Of note, Sherman writes that large-market teams may have the upper hand in pursuing Sugano, as NPB’s Giants are viewed as the “Yankees of Japan,” playing their home games at the famed Tokyo Dome.
It’s not clear just what type of arrangement Sugano will command on the open market, but a multi-year deal with an eight-figure annual salary seems reasonable to anticipate. ESPN’s Kiley McDaniel predicted a two-year, $24MM deal in his updated free-agent rankings and contract predictions. If a team believes Sugano to be closer to a No. 2 or No. 3 starter in MLB, it’s certainly possible that he could secure a third year or a hike on that annual salary.
The Mets, of course, have Jacob deGrom atop their rotation and will also rely on Marcus Stroman after the righty accepted an $18.9MM qualifying offer. Rookie David Peterson was impressive in a limited 2020 debut, and lefty Steven Matz was also tendered a contract despite a recent downturn in his production. Noah Syndergaard, meanwhile, will be out until this coming summer due to Tommy John surgery.
Emboldened by new owner Steve Cohen, the Mets are a clear win-now team under the watch of returning president Sandy Alderson and newly hired GM Jared Porter. With James McCann and Trevor May already signed to multi-year deals, further additions are a given. If the plan is indeed to add a second-tier arm and make Springer the focus, then Sugano would join Jake Odorizzi, Masahiro Tanaka, James Paxton and Corey Kluber among the best remaining rotation options on the open market.
To this point in his posting window, Sugano has also been connected to the Red Sox, the Rangers and the Blue Jays. Given his stature in Japan, it’s all but certain that Sugano will receive interest from the majority of pitching-needy clubs who are willing to spend in the wake of this year’s revenue losses. In addition to the money owed to Sugano on a new contract, the team that signs him will owe a release fee to NPB’s Giants. That fee is equal to 20 percent of the contract’s first $25MM, plus 17.5 percent of the next $25MM and 15 percent of any dollars spent thereafter (including option years, incentives, etc.).