With the Tyler Glasnow trade now finalized and Ryan Pepiot a part of the Rays’ pitching mix, the team is continuing to look for pitching help. Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times reports that “the Rays have some interest in” Naoyuki Uwasawa, whose 45-day posting window is up on January 11.
Tampa becomes the seventh MLB team known to have some level of interest in the right-hander, as a Sports Hochi report (Japanese language link) in September revealed that the Angels, Cubs, Diamondbacks, Rangers, Reds, and Royals all had scouts watching one of Uwasawa’s starts for the Nippon Ham-Fighters. It is probably safe to assume even more teams have some level of interest in Uwasawa due to both his track record in Nippon Professional Baseball, and the fact that he might have a relatively low price tag in comparison to many other free agent pitchers on the market.
Uwasawa (who turns 30 in February) had a 3.19 ERA over 1118 1/3 career innings in NPB, all with the Fighters from 2014-2023. Though it took a few years for the righty to fully establish himself on the Fighters’ roster, Uwasawa’s results have always been pretty solid, and his 2.96 ERA over 170 innings in 2023 represented a career best. Uwasawa is a three-time NPB All-Star, including a nod this past season.
The two big knocks against Uwasawa from a Major League scouting perspective are his lack of strikeouts (19.67% strikeout rate) and a lack of velocity. Uwasawa’s average fastball clocked in at around 90.8mph in 2023, according to MLBTR’s Dai Takegami Podziewski in the September edition of the NPB Players To Watch feature. While Uwasawa has solid control and obviously his contact-heavy approach has led to great success in Japan, whether or not his stuff will be able to fool MLB hitters over the long term is surely a question front offices are asking themselves as they consider offers.
The Rays have a long history of helping pitchers either achieve new levels of success or turn their careers around entirely, so one would imagine they could be a particularly solid landing spot for a pitcher making the transition from NPB to MLB. Tampa Bay doesn’t have a lengthy history with Japanese pitchers or the posting system in general, yet broadly, any intriguing player who represents something of a bargain signing would appeal to a Rays team that is always looking to keep a limited payroll.
Signing Uwasawa would cost the Rays or any MLB team an additional posting fee to the Fighters, on top of whatever Uwasawa himself would earn in a contract. The Fighters’ release fee would be worth 20% of the contract’s first $25MM, 17.5% of the deal’s next $25MM, and then 15% of any money beyond $50MM. If Uwasawa doesn’t agree to a Major League contract by the end of his 45-day posting window, he would return to the Fighters for the 2024 NPB season.