Don't Expect to Save Money on this Import

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Posted Dec 19, 2008


According to a report in the St. Louis Post Dispatch, the St. Louis Cardinals are looking to Japanese pitcher Koji Uehara to give them some depth in the rotation (and possible insurance if Chris Carpenter isn't ready by spring training). They have recently been in contact with his agent, but they need to be prepared to deal with sticker shock on this Japanese import.

A two-time winner of the Sawamura Award as Japan's best starting pitcher, the 33-year-old right hander, has spent his entire career with the storied Yomiuri Giants franchise, Japan's version of the New York Yankees. Uehara’s repertoire includes an 88-90 mph fastball, a nice cutter, two kinds of forkball, and an outstanding slider, with exceptional control of all his pitches.

You can get an impression on Uehara's delivery and mechanics with these 4 minutes and 52 seconds of video featured on YouTube.

Last season Uehara went 6-5 with 72 strikeouts and a 3.81 ERA in 89 2/3 innings for the Giants, not the kind of a year that netted him two Sawamura Awards, but still good enough to attract some interest from at least five major league clubs.

Beyond the Cardinals, the Angels, Orioles, Rangers and Mets have also expressed interest in Uehara; of the five teams the Cardinals would provide by far the most pitcher-friendly environment for Uehara, with pitching coach Dave Duncan likely to get the most out of the former Japanese star. In addition, he would be playing for a perennial contender with the most storied franchise in the National League.

The Cardinals could find themselves in a bidding war that they can’t win for Uehara’s services. Herein lies the "sticker shock", rumor has it that the Texas Rangers are considering offering him a three-year deal in the *$10 million range.

The Baltimore Orioles, who are desperately seeking starting pitching may not be willing to match the Rangers offer, but they would probably beat out any proposals made by St. Louis, if for no other reason, the Orioles need pitching help more than St. Louis and Baltimore would guarantee Uehara a job as a starter, whereas, Uehara’s role with St. Louis would more than likely be that of a swingman.

A control pitcher, sometimes compared to future Hall of Famer Greg Maddux, even at the age of 33, Uehara, if healthy, could still contribute at the major league level for a couple of more seasons, either as a #3 or #4 starter or swingman. If he's going to pitch in St. Louis, it's going to have to be for a lot less than three-years for $30 million, that is a lot of yen.

CORRECTION
Sources indicate the offer from the Rangers would be three-years for $10+ million, not three-years for $30 million ($10 million for each season) as earlier reported. In addition it appears now that the Rangers are no longer interested in Uehara, there offer was based on him working out of the bullpen. He's expected to command significantly more as a starter, how much more remains to be seen.



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