The Hanshin Tigers of Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball are going to make right-hander Shintaro Fujinami available to MLB clubs this offseason via the posting system, according to a report from Kyodo News. Back in September, reports from Japan (Japanese link from Sponichi Annex and English link from The Japan Times) relayed his desire to attempt the move to North America. It now seems that the club will grant him his wish.
Fujinami, who will turn 29 in April, figures to be an interesting addition to this winter’s free agent market, though a very difficult one to predict. Going back to his high school days, Fujinami was a highly-touted young arm that was often compared to Shohei Ohtani when they were in the same draft class. Fujinami was first mentioned on MLBTR back in 2012, showcasing the hype that has followed him around for some time.
He lived up to that hype in his first few seasons but subsequently spent a long time battling control issues. (This eight-minute video from Yakyu Cosmopolitan is recommended for those who want a rundown of Fujinami’s whole career, though it was made before the 2022 season.) In 2013, Fujinami was thrown directly into the Tigers’ rotation in his age-19 campaign. He responded to that bold assignment by throwing 137 2/3 innings with a 2.75 ERA, 126 strikeouts, 44 walks and a couple of hit batters. He followed that up with two more excellent seasons, throwing 163 innings in 2014 with a 3.53 ERA and then 199 frames in 2015 with a 2.40 ERA.
In 2016, he was still fairly effective, but took a step back from that 2015 peak. His ERA went up to 3.25 and he walked 70 batters in 169 innings. The control issues would only grow from there, as he issued 45 walks in just 59 innings in 2017, eventually getting sent down to the minors. He’s been up-and-down between the minors and the Tigers in each season since then, struggling to earn enough trust to maintain a more permanent spot in Hanshin.
That was still the case here in 2022, as Fujinami made nine appearances down on the farm and 16 with the Tigers. In those 16 appearances for Hanshin, he logged 66 2/3 innings with a 3.38 ERA, striking out 65 while walking 21 batters. He faced a total of 276 batters, meaning his walk rate was 7.6%, which is actually respectable. For reference, this year’s MLB average was 8.2%. That’s a huge improvement over 2021, where he walked 40 out of 238 batters face for a rate of 16.8%.
All of this seems to make Fujinami a high-risk, high-reward possibility for teams in free agency. On the one hand, he has hit 126 km/h (1o1 mph) with his fastball and has been elite in the past. Despite his decade-long track record, he’ll be just 29 years old next season. On the other hand, he has struggled so badly in recent years that the Tigers haven’t let him be anything more than a depth arm since 2016. There is likely to be a wide variance in how he is viewed by MLB clubs, with some completely uninterested and others willing to take a chance on his arsenal with the aim of helping him harness his tools.
Once he is formally posted, there will be a 30-day window where MLB clubs can negotiate with his representatives. If a deal is reached, the signing team will also owe money to the Tigers, with that amount being relative to the size of the contract given to Fujinami. Any big league team that signs him would owe the Tigers a fee equal to 20% of the contract’s first $25MM, 17.5% of the next $25MM and 15% of any dollars thereafter. If he does not reach an agreement with an MLB team, he will return to the Tigers for 2023.