TODAY: Enns is heading to Japan to sign with the Seibu Lions, the team announced.
NOVEMBER 17: The Rays are in the process of finalizing an agreement to send left-hander Dietrich Enns to a team either in Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball, the Korea Baseball Organization or Taiwan’s Chinese Professional Baseball League, reports Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times (Twitter link). Enns will be placed on release waivers today and, upon clearing Friday, will be free to sign with his new club.
Moves such as this one generally benefit all parties and are, of course, made with full consent from the player in question. Whichever team held interest in Enns would first contact the Rays, who’d then gauge the player’s interest in the opportunity before proceeding to negotiate a release agreement. Tampa Bay will likely receive some financial compensation for releasing Enns, while the pitcher himself will receive a larger salary in NPB or the KBO than he’d have earned as a fringe big leaguer in 2022 — if he’d even stuck on the Rays’ 40-man roster.
Enns, 30, was quite effective in 22 1/3 frames for the Rays this past season, pitching to a 2.82 ERA with an impressive 28.4% strikeout rate against a strong 6.8% walk rate. That marked the first big league action for Enns since a brief four-inning cup of coffee with the 2017 Twins, however, and the lefty’s minor league track record generally isn’t as strong as this past season’s results. Enns did post a 2.64 ERA in 71 2/3 Triple-A frames, but he carries a career 4.26 ERA with pedestrian strikeout and walk rates in nearly 400 innings at that level.
The benefit to the arrangement for Enns could be twofold. In addition to securing a guaranteed salary of some note for the first time in an 11-year professional career, he’ll also set himself up for the opportunity to potentially return to Major League Baseball outside the constructs of the arbitration system.
Had Enns remained with the Rays, he’d have needed another three years on the roster before qualifying for arbitration eligibility as a 33-year-old (at least, as the arbitration system currently stands). However, by going to NPB, the KBO or the CPBL, Enns could impress for only a season or two and then return on a guaranteed Major League deal. Chris Flexen, Merrill Kelly, Josh Lindblom and Miles Mikolas are among the recent players to go this route, securing considerable salaries overseas before returning to the big leagues on guaranteed, multi-year contracts that typically allow them to become free agents upon completion (rather than remain under control via arbitration). It’s not a foolproof gambit, of course, but even if Enns struggles in his new environs he’d still likely come away with more than he’d have earned with a big league club in 2022.
With the removal of Enns, the Rays’ 40-man roster will have three open spots. Topkin suggests that the Rays may look to open another spot or two prior to Friday’s Rule 5 protection deadline.