The 30-day posting window for right-hander Kohei Arihara is set to close on December 26, and Arihara is apparently set to choose between three MLB teams. According to reports out of Japan, the Padres, Rangers, and Red Sox are the finalists for Arihara’s services.
San Diego was the only team known to have interest in Arihara, though it isn’t any surprise that pitching-needy teams like Texas and Boston are also looking into the 28-year-old. Interestingly, the Padres, Rangers, and Red Sox have also been linked to Tomoyuki Sugano, another high-profile NPB name on the market. Sugano’s posting window doesn’t close until January 7, so it’s possible that whichever team lands Arihara could drop out of the race for Sugano.
Comparisons between the two pitchers are inevitable, and Sugano certainly has the more successful track record in Nippon Professional Baseball, as a two-time Sawamura Award winner and one of the better pitchers in the entire league over the last decade. Sugano is also 31, however, while Arihara doesn’t turn 29 until August. Arihara would also presumably be available at a lower price tag, which is certainly a factor for any team in this offseason.
Arihara has a 3.74 ERA, 3.23 K/BB rate, and 6.7 K/9 over 836 innings for the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters. After winning Pacific League Rookie Of The Year honors in 2015, Arihara had a strong sophomore campaign in 2016 before his production took a dip in 2017-18. He righted the ship with his finest season, as Arihara has a 2.46 ERA and 8.8 K/9 (both career bests) over 164 1/3 frames for the Fighters in 2019.
As per a scouting report from Will Hoefer of the Sports Info Solutions blog after that big 2019 season, Arihara has a plus changeup, and a fastball that can touch 95mph (though Arihara prefers to mix speeds to keep batters guessing). Arihara has good command over these two pitches “and a slider that flashes plus,” and Hoefer projects the righty as “a middle of the rotation starter for an MLB team.”
Such an arm would surely be attractive to the three reported finalists. The Padres are looking for rotation help in the wake of Mike Clevinger’s Tommy John surgery, and the Rangers and Red Sox are both looking for live arms just to fill out a rotation after their pitchers largely struggled in 2020. In Texas, Arihara would slot in alongside veterans Kyle Gibson and Jordan Lyles, with newly-acquired Dane Dunning also tabbed for a rotation spot after being acquired in the Lance Lynn trade. Boston’s pitching staff is even more open, given the uncertainty over how Eduardo Rodriguez will bounce back from the health problems that kept him off the mound in 2020, the ever-present injury concerns for Nathan Eovaldi, and an overall lack of experience among other starting options.
According to the MLB/NPB posting system, Arihara has been free to negotiate with any Major League club over his 30-day period, and once he signs with a team, that team will owe the Fighters a release fee that will vary based on the size of Arihara’s contract. The Fighters will receive a sum of 20 percent of a contract’s first $25MM, and then 17.5 percent of the next $25MM, and 15 percent of any dollars spent beyond the $50MM threshold.