All of the attention for the Chicago White Sox has been focused on the outfield free agent market, but could an international pitcher be on the radar for the Southsiders? Kenta Maeda has until January 8th, 2016 to sign with a major league team. The Japanese starting pitcher was posted by the Hiroshima Carp in early December in hopes their two-time Sawamura Award winner (the Japanese equivalent of the Cy Young Award) would net them the maximum $20 million posting fee when Maeda got wooed stateside. However, I don’t think his current club expected the market for their ace to be this quiet after all the buzz last winter was how big his contract would be if he were allowed to explore the American market. Perhaps his organization failed to realize the gluttony of available free-agent pitchers in the 2015-16 offseason, or they were convinced someone would be intrigued enough in their foreign pitcher over the better-known domestic options.
Thus far, only the Los Angeles Dodgers have shown interest in the 27-year old, but that was only after missing out on Zack Greinke, Johnny Cueto, and Hisashi Iwakuma after they nixed a deal after reviewing Iwakuma’s medical records. (Iwakuma could have even helped recruit his fellow countryman to the City of Angels before resigning with the Seattle Mariners.) What does that mean for the White Sox? Well, the fewer amount of teams interested in Maeda, the cheaper his price tag comes. Despite that, Rick Hahn and Co. should avoid the slightly built pitcher like the plague.
Even though the right-handed Maeda would help balance the southpaw-heavy rotation in Chicago, there are several reasons he does not fit with the 2016 White Sox. First, the question of where he fits in the rotation as someone would have to leave the starting group. It clearly would not be Chris Sale or Jose Quintana, and Carlos Rodon proved he deserved to pitch at the big league level during his rookie campaign. John Danks would have to be traded and you would be hard pressed to find someone who feels even part of his contract is worth his production right now. Sending Erik Johnson back to AAA Charlotte after a fantastic September would do nothing for his confidence nor would it help balance the rotation by sending the lone right handed starter to the minors to make room for another righty would defeat the purpose of signing Maeda to even out the rotation.
Secondly, Maeda’s aforementioned slight frame would lead me to be extremely cautious before signing him to any contract at the major league level. Listed at 6’0″ 154 lbs. and what looks like a max effort delivery, his future health should be seriously questioned. Couple that with the health of other Japanese pitchers in recent years (Masahiro Tanaka, Yu Darvish, and Iwakuma) and a pattern of injuries emerge. Even though their talent levels are not in question, the extended workload in the U.S. have caused their bodies to break down. While the innings pitched are at similar levels, Japanese pitchers typically work every sixth day which gives them an extra day of rest between starts at home as opposed to the rotations in Major League Baseball. Simply put, Maeda does not have the frame to withstand a 162-game, 33-start season at the big league level, even as a number three or four starter which is where some scouts see his game developing.
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Lastly, the White Sox can use that money on a more pressing need, namely outfield help. News has picked up on the outfield market recently as the Pale Hose have been considered the front-runners for both Alex Gordon and Yoenis Cespedes. (I personally prefer Gordon due to better defense, more consistent at-bats, and stealing him away from the division rival Kansas City Royals would be a special kind of revenge.) Since the Hiroshima Carp have stated they will not accept any bid underneath the maximum $20 million, that must be added to roughly $75 million contract he would command, pushing his overall total to the $100 million range. The White Sox are not afraid to go big after Japanese pitchers as shown by their pursuit of Tanaka two winters ago, but those were both a different budget and a different roster composition. One option with that hypothetical $100 million is to sign either Gordon or Cespedes and trade Adam LaRoche or Avisail Garcia. Melky Cabrera would move to either designated hitter or right field, depending on whichever position opens up. Another possibility would be to option Garcia to AAA, both alleviating the outfield logjam and sending a message to him that his play must match his potential to stay in the Windy City long term.
Disregarding the money that could be spent on upgrading the outfield, Maeda would still not be worth the consideration for the White Sox, as I do not trust his health as a big league pitcher and he does not fit into the pitching rotation for Robin Ventura‘s squad in 2016.