The Sunday Japan Times mentions a report in the Chunichi Sports paper that may be important to St. Louis Cardinals fans concerned about the club’s perceived slowness in acquiring another starting pitcher.
The article notes that the pool of MLB teams in the hunt for what they call one of two prize Japanese free agents, former Chunichi Dragons ace pitcher Kenshin Kawakami (pictured in both photos, AP), is down to three clubs: the Baltimore Orioles, St. Louis Cardinals and Minnesota Twins.
A MASN report out of Baltimore confirmed the O’s interest in the right-hander, but the writer did not know the terms of the club’s offer. He did mention that the deep-pocketed Boston Red Sox were previously considered to be stiff competition for Kawakami, but interest has cooled substantially since the Sox signed Brad Penny last week. The offer the BoSox were considering was rumored to be three years, $21 million.
A Friday report from the Baltimore Sun debunked a rumor that the Orioles made their “final offer” to Kawakami. Several days prior, a Japanese network reported that the O’s were worried about the pitcher’s shoulder and had offered agent Dan Evans an incentive-laden contract at a lower base than the agent was looking for.
Mid-December reports from Japan also mentioned the San Francisco Giants, Atlanta Braves, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim and Milwaukee Brewers as having been interested in Kawakami.
The other top Japanese free agent is Koji Uehara, 33 years old like Kawakami. He has both started and closed for the Yomiuri Giants. The Times wonders out loud why speculation about his prospects for the majors has been quiet as of late. The paper expected that Uehara should have been signed by now by an MLB club. Earlier rumors had Texas making him an offer of $10 million for three years and the Orioles reportedly coveted him as a starter.
In referring to either player, it did not seem to me that any of the reports acknowledged the general slowness of the market.
For additional information on both players, check out my post from December 18. (Note: Hitoki Iwase, mentioned in that report, has since signed a four-year deal to remain with Chunichi, according to NPB Tracker. (Iwase was Kawakami’s teammate and closer for the Dragons.)
Additionally, Kawakami’s career stats are listed below. Since having been selected as the top draft pick by Chunichi in 1998, he has pitched for the Dragons ever since.
The right-hander has not suffered a losing season since 2001 and has been durable prior to 2008, when he missed time due to an illness and with a strained back. (I could not find any mention of shoulder problems.) His career strikeout to walk ratio of 3.78-to-1 is impressive.
* Starts total does not include complete games.
YouTube video on Kawakami on the mound.