Reaction to Uehara’s Agreement with the Orioles

» 07 January 2009 » In mlb »

I found out about Koji Uehara’s signing with the Orioles the same way everyone else did, via the incomparable mlbtraderumors.com. I think much of the Japanese media found out the same way I did, as there was a raft of reports referring to the same Baltimore Sun article that Tim linked to. 

Strangely, Uehara’s agreement with Baltimore hasn’t exactly been front page headline news on the Japanese websites I frequent. Ichiro playing catch got the top billing on Sanspo, while Nikkan Sports and Sponichi had the news buried among other links. Nikkan Sports, however, does provide some new information with this quote from Uehara:  “now we’re working out the finer points, so I can’t comment beyond that”. 
Word is that the Uehara agreed to an incentive-loaded two-year deal worth $10m. Rumors of a deal at that base salary first appears about a month ago, at the start of the winter meetings. If Uehara can stay healthy, I think he’s a good bet to outperform other pitchers signed at that price. Baseball contracts are a fickle thing; it wasn’t that long ago that Baltimore signed noted injury risk Danys Baez to a 3-year, $18m contract.
I wrote an bullish profile on Uehara back in July. With the benefit of an additional couple of months of observation and the knowledge that he’s going to Baltimore, I’ll temper my expectations just a bit. I pulled this quote from Keith Law off of Tim’s post:

In an ideal environment — National League, non-hitters’ park — he could be a midrotation innings-eater because he’ll allow so few baserunners. In the American League, he’d be more of a fourth starter, but would have to have some luck keeping the ball in the park to keep his ERA under 4.00.

I actually think that Uehara will be susceptible to baserunners because he’ll be around the plate so much. More troubling is that the HR ball was unquestionably his weakness in Japan, and he’s going to the most HR-friendly park in MLB. On the other hand, he’ll have two good outfielders behind him in Adam Jones and Nick Markakis, which suit his flyball tendencies. And even though he got rocked in his last appearance in the Japan Series, prior to that he put together a string of seven excellent starts. 

Uehara was one of my favorite guys to watch in Japan and I’m glad he’s finally getting the chance to fulfill his dream of playing in America. I’m looking forward to seeing him play in the States, and seeing if his trademark excellent control translates to MLB success.

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