The Athletics announced the signing of right-hander Shintaro Fujinami to a one-year deal on Friday evening. The Japanese hurler reportedly receives a $3.25MM guarantee and can earn up to $1MM more in potential incentives. That deal also come with a 20% posting fee of $650K to be paid out to Fujinami’s former team, the Hanshin Tigers of Nippon Professional Baseball, which brings the Athletics’ total expenditure on the deal to $3.9MM. Oakland would also owe a 20% fee to the Tigers on any money Fujinami unlocks via incentives.
Fujinami, a hard-throwing 28-year-old, was posted by the Tigers back on December 1. A high school phenom from the same draft class as Shohei Ohtani, incredibly stepping right from high school ball into the Tigers’ rotation and as a 19-year-old rookie and pitching to a 2.75 ERA in 137 2/3 innings as a starter. For several years, he delivered standout results, pitching to a sub-3.00 ERA through his first four seasons as a professional and making the Central League All-Star team in each of those first four campaigns.
However, as Yakyu Cosmopolitan lays out in a video recap of Fujinami’s career that fans will want to check out (YouTube link, video in English), Fujinami was left on the mound to toss 161 pitches — far and away a career high — during his age-22 season in an outing that began with him yielding five runs in three innings. He’d already begun to display some worrying command issues prior to that outing, and the extent to which that outing might have impacted him can’t be known, but Fujinami began to oscillate between the Tigers’ first team (i.e. their Major League club) and their farm system beginning in 2017. Further struggles from 2017-21 caused his stock to fade substantially.
The 2022 season, though, has brought about something of a renaissance for Fujinami. The hard-throwing righty made 10 starts and six relief appearances with the Tigers’ top team, pitching to a 3.38 ERA in 66 2/3 innings. He fanned 23.6% of his opponents and, most crucially, turned in a career-low 7.6% walk rate. That was not only the best mark of Fujinami’s career but the first time since 2016 he’s posted a walk rate under 10%.
As a 6’6″ righty with an upper-90s heater that has reached triple digits and a slider that’s been a plus pitch in the past, Fujinami offers tantalizing potential. The recent struggles and repeated inability to locate the ball with any real consistency obviously limit his earning power, but big league scouts have had Fujinami on their radar since his high school days. The A’s make for a sensible team to roll the dice on catching lightning in a bottle with Fujinami’s impressive raw arsenal, given their spacious home park and status as a non-contender, which will afford them additional patience if the righty struggles to acclimate to North American ball early on.
With the A’s, Fujinami will step into a starting staff that includes Cole Irvin, Paul Blackburn and a host of fellow unproven options. Oakland signed journeyman right-hander Drew Rucinski to a one-year, $3MM deal on the heels of a terrific run in the Korea Baseball Organization, so it’s likely he and Fujinami will slot in behind Irvin and Blackburn. Candidates for the fifth spot on the staff will include out-of-options righty James Kaprielian and prospects Ken Waldichuk, Kyle Muller, JP Sears and Adrian Martinez. It’s at least possible the A’s will use a six-man group early in the season, though their exact plans will be dependent on both the health and performance of this group during Spring Training.
The NPB/MLB posting system allows a posted player to negotiate with all 30 MLB clubs; the player’s former team is subsequently entitled to a posting/release fee that’s equal to 20% of the first $25MM on a contract, 17.5% of the next $25MM and 15% of any dollars thereafter. Given that it’s a one-year deal, the A’s are on the hook for a release fee that’s 20% of the $3.25MM guaranteed to Fujinami. That fee will be paid to the team and is separate from the value of the contract paid to Fujinami himself.
Jon Morosi of MLB.com first reported the A’s and Fujinami were in ongoing contract discussions. Jeff Passan of ESPN first reported the A’s were signing Fujinami to a one-year deal. Bob Nightengale of USA Today was first to report the $3.25MM guarantee. Jon Heyman of the New York Post first reported the $1MM in incentives.