Sawamura pitched for a decade in Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball before going stateside, signing for the Red Sox on a two-year, $3MM deal. He’d compiled a 2.77 ERA across 868 1/3 NPB innings. Sawamura initially worked as a starter for Yomiuri but switched to the bullpen in 2015 and became the team’s closer. A shoulder injury saw him miss the 2017 season, but he’d return as a quality setup man before his eventual move to the US in 2021.
When the Red Sox landed Sawamura, 32 at the time, it was seen as an affordable pact with a fair bit of upside if he could excel in the transition to MLB. While he never blossomed into a dominant relief arm, he did give the Sox some valuable middle relief innings. In 2021, Sawamura tossed 53 innings of 3.06 ERA ball, striking out batters at a strong 26.2% clip and walking them at a below-average 13.7% rate.
2022 started well for Sawamura, as he held a 2.48 ERA on July 23. Things went downhill quickly though, and over the next month Sawamura would work to a 5.40 ERA before the Red Sox opted to designate him for assignment in late August. All told, Sawamura owned a 3.39 ERA over 103 2/3 innings for Boston. Given his affordable salary that mark would make the DFA a little surprising, but there were some troubling signs below the surface, and Sawamura had seen his strikeout rate dip and his HardHit% jump towards the end of his time with the Red Sox.
There also may have been some financial motivation to the DFA. There was a club and player option in place for 2023 with the value of those options increasing based on performance. Sawamura had a player option of $1.9MM at the time of the DFA, while the club option sat at $3.7MM. The player option would have increased to $2MM with his 50th appearance, but the Sox DFA’d him after his 49th appearance. Boston would outright Sawamura to Triple-A, but he’d ask for a release from the team ten days later to pursue other opportunities. The Red Sox granted that release, and Sawamura received a $1MM buyout on the 2023 option.