The Diamondbacks have shown interest in Japanese pitcher Shintaro Fujinami, according to a report from Nikkan Sports (Japanese-language link). The report also lists the Giants and Red Sox as other teams in the mix but suggests Arizona is emerging as one of the favorites to work out a deal with the right-hander.
Fujinami was made available to major league clubs via the posting system on December 1. That opened a 45-day window for MLB teams to negotiate a contract with the 28-year-old. If Fujinami doesn’t sign with an MLB team by January 15, he’d remain a member of Nippon Professional Baseball’s Hanshin Tigers in 2023. Reports of MLB interest and perhaps an early frontrunner just over a week after the posting window opens would seem to bode well for his chances of making the jump to the majors.
One of the more interesting wild cards in this year’s pitching market, Fujinami has already played parts of 10 seasons at Japan’s top level. A highly-regarded amateur talent a decade ago, he made his NPB debut at age 18 in 2013. Fujinami started with an excellent 2.75 ERA over 137 2/3 innings as a rookie, seemingly positioning him as a core piece of the Tigers future. By 2015, he’d posted a 2.40 ERA with 221 strikeouts through 199 innings in his age-21 season. Fujinami also performed well in 2016 but saw his production start to drop off by the ’17 campaign.
Increasingly, the 6’6″ righty battled control problems. That erratic strike-throwing led the Tigers to shuttle him back-and-forth between NPB and their minor league affiliate frequently through 2019. He spent the majority of his time at Japan’s top level in 2020-21 but posted respective ERA’s of 4.01 and 5.21. Fujinami again split his 2022 campaign between NPB and the minors, only throwing 66 2/3 innings at the highest level.
To his credit, he found more success in that relatively limited look than he has in a while. Fujinami managed a 3.38 ERA through 16 appearances. He struck out a strong 23.6% of opponents and importantly only doled out free passes to 7.6% of batters faced. Fujinami’s only a season removed from an untenable 16.8% walk rate in 2021, but he at least flashed more consistent strike-throwing ability this year. He’s long had an arsenal that intrigues scouts, with a fastball that usually sits in the mid-90’s and has topped triple-digits in the past.
The erratic strike-throwing track record could point towards Fujinami being a better fit for the bullpen, but he has an extensive workload as a starter in Japan. Each of the Diamondbacks, Giants and Red Sox could stand to use additional arms in both the rotation and relief unit, making Fujinami an interesting upside possibility for any of that group.
If he does sign with a major league team, the club would owe a fee to the Tigers under the MLB – NPB posting agreement. That’s tied to the size of the contract itself, with the MLB team owing the NPB club 20% of the contract’s first $25MM, 17.5% of the next $25MM and 15% of any dollars thereafter. It’d be a major surprise if an MLB deal for Fujinami topped $25MM, so the posting fee is likely to end up at 20% of the contract value.