Left-hander Shota Imanaga was officially posted by the Yokohama BayStars of Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball late last month, kicking off a 45-day window during which he’ll be eligible to sign with major league clubs. While Imanaga only just officially joined the ranks of MLB’s free agents days ago, he’s long been expected to be posted this offseason. That’s allowed Imanaga’s free agency to develop considerable buzz in recent months.
While he’s largely been overshadowed by NPB superstar Yoshinobu Yamamoto, who’s widely considered the top starting pitcher on this offseason’s market, Imanaga is an impressive pitcher in his own right who is expected to be a potential mid-rotation arm in the big leagues with a low-nineties fastball as part of a deep pitch mix that Brandon Tew of Sports Info Solutions recently profiled. MLBTR ranked Imanaga tenth (sixth among starting pitchers) on our annual top 50 free agents list and projected him for a five year, $85MM deal. ESPN’s Jeff Passan suggests that Imanaga’s market may be even stronger than expected, noting in a recent article that while teams were initially hopeful the southpaw could be had on a deal similar to the five-year, $75MM pact Kodai Senga landed last offseason, his final deal figures to exceed that, potentially to the point of approaching a $100MM guarantee.
Should Imanaga’s contract ultimately reach the $100MM range suggested by Passan, it would be a major win not only for Imanaga but also the BayStars. Imanaga’s free agency is subject to the MLB/NPB posting system, under which the team that signs the left-hander would owe the BayStars a posting fee worth as much as 20% of Imanaga’s total guarantee, with the percentage going down as the price of Imanaga’s contract goes up. If Imanaga were to sign for $100MM guaranteed, the BayStars would receive approximately $16.9MM, or just over $2MM more than they would receive if Imanaga signed an $85MM deal in line with MLBTR’s projections. The Cubs, Red Sox, and Mets have all been connected to Imanaga so far this offseason, though it’s certainly possible more teams are involved in the bidding for the 30-year-old’s services.
More free agent notes from around the league…
- Former Nationals top prospect Erick Fedde is among the most interesting free agents on the market this offseason after a dominant season with the NC Dinos of the Korea Baseball Organization. Previous reports have indicated that Fedde, who sports a career 5.41 ERA across six seasons in the majors but altered his repertoire before dominating to the tune of a 2.00 ERA across 30 starts with the Dinos this year, has garnered interest from both the Dinos and MLB clubs. Su-eun Jeon of Baseball Korea (h/t Dan Kurtz of MyKBO) adds additional clarity to those reports, noting that Fedde has received interest from two MLB teams and a team in Japan’s NPB in addition to the offer he’s received to return to the Dinos. While it’s possible that Fedde could look to return to stateside ball this offseason, it’s worth noting that no former big leaguer returning from the KBO has secured a guarantee of even $10MM in the majors. That could lead Fedde to bet on himself by either remaining with the Dinos in hopes of a similarly dominant season in 2024 to further bolster his case for a more significant pact, or even consider a move to Japan in order to face NPB’s stiffer competition.
- Fedde isn’t the only American-born player of note who could look to return to the majors this offseason, as MLB Network’s Jon Morosi suggests left-hander Charlie Barnes is expected to garner MLB interest in free agency this offseason. Barnes, 28, was a fourth-round pick by the Twins in the 2017 draft and made nine appearances with the big league club in 2021. He struggled to a 5.92 ERA and 5.06 FIP in 38 innings of work for Minnesota across nine appearances. He’s spent the two years since then pitching for the KBO’s Lotte Giants, with a combined 3.46 ERA in 61 starts. Looking just at his 2023 season, Barnes struck out 20% of batters faced with a 3.28 ERA in 170 1/3 innings of work. In addition to the aforementioned MLB interest, Morosi suggests that the Giants are expected to have strong interest in retaining Barnes, who served as the ace of their staff this season.