Infielder Breyvic Valera, left-hander Jesse Biddle and right-hander Jacob Waguespack have all signed with the Orix Buffaloes of Nippon Professional Baseball in Japan, the team announced this week (link via Yahoo Japan). MLB Network’s Jon Heyman tweets that Valera will earn $1MM on his deal.
The 29-year-old Valera ended the 2021 season on the Blue Jays’ roster but was granted his release earlier this month so that he could pursue this opportunity. He played 37 games and tallied 97 plate appearances with a .253/.313/.356 batting line for Toronto this past season.
While Valera has had a difficult time sticking on one team’s 40-man roster and has been designated for assignment on six different occasions, he’s also been claimed off waivers four times and traded once — illustrating the manner in which his defensive versatility and strong minor league production hold appeal to clubs. The switch-hitter has appeared in 93 big league games but spent time with five teams, hitting .236/.302/.322 in 235 plate appearances while seeing action at second base, shortstop, third base and in right field. Valrea has been much more productive in the upper minors, evidenced by a .303/.377/.443 batting line in 1730 Triple-A plate appearances.
Biddle, 30, has pitched in parts of four MLB seasons, with the bulk of his work coming as a member of the Braves. The former No. 27 overall pick has also spent time with the Rangers, Reds and Mariners, pitching to a combined 5.07 ERA in 103 big league frames. Biddle spent the early portion of his pro career as a starter and, for a couple seasons, ranked among the game’s top 100 prospects at Baseball America and MLB.com.
Biddle struggled between Double-A and Triple-A in 2015, however, and he wound up requiring Tommy John surgery following that season. He missed all of the 2016 campaign a good portion of the 2017 season as well while recovering, and he’s worked exclusively out of the bullpen since making it back to the mound. He’s been hit fairly hard in the Majors but posted strong minor league numbers as a reliever, including a 2.67 ERA and a whopping 37.7% strikeout rate through 33 2/3 innings with Triple-A Gwinnett this past season.
Waguespack, 28, made 13 starts for the 2019 Jays and held his own with a 4.38 ERA, an 18.8% strikeout rate and an 8.7% walk rate. His 2020 season was a struggle, however, as he was tagged for 16 earned runs on 27 hits and nine walks in just 17 2/3 innings of work. In all, Waguespack carries a 5.08 ERA in 95 2/3 innings at the big league level.
As with Valera and Biddle, the minor league track record on Waguespack is quite a bit better. He’s notched a 3.86 ERA in parts of six minor league campaigns since being selected by the Pirates way down the board in the 37th round of the 2012 draft. Making it to the big leagues at all is something of a feat for a 37th-round selection, and Waguespack will now head to Japan and secure the first notable, guaranteed salary of his professional career.
All three players figure to earn more playing in Japan than they’d have received in 2022 had they remained in North America. Valera would’ve been in line for a pre-arbitration salary (i.e. near the league minimum) and, as his transaction history makes abundantly clear, was not a lock to last the whole season on the roster. Biddle and Waguespack would’ve been minor league free agents who’d likely command minor league contracts with non-roster invitations to Spring Training. Signing in Japan also creates the possibility for each of the three to earn raises if they find success and re-sign in NPB or the KBO for future seasons. With strong enough results, it’s plausible that any of the three could garner interest in a big league return at some point down the road.