Dodgers close to an agreement with Japanese right-hander Kenta Maeda
In the final 48 hours of the calendar year, the Dodgers might have gone from having too few starting pitchers to having too many.
The Dodgers are close to an agreement with right-hander Kenta Maeda, who won Japan’s equivalent of the Cy Young Award last season, according to a person familiar with the deal but not willing to discuss it publicly before it is finalized.
Scouting reports generally project Maeda — listed at 6 feet and 154 pounds — as a mid-level starter rather than an ace in the major leagues. He thrives on off-speed pitches — particularly a curve and changeup — thrown with precision rather than with a fastball that usually registers below the major league average of 92 mph.
The Dodgers said they had no announcement to make Thursday. A day earlier, the Dodgers announced the signing of left-hander Scott Kazmir, presumably, at that time, filling the final hole in a starting rotation that could include left-handers Clayton Kershaw, Brett Anderson, Alex Wood and Hyun-Jin Ryu.
The Maeda deal does not guarantee the Dodgers a surplus, since Ryu is trying to come back from shoulder surgery and Anderson appeared to tire at the end of last season, in which he pitched more innings than he had in the previous three seasons combined.
Wood could be an option in the bullpen or in trade, where he could be particularly attractive because he must play another four seasons before he is eligible for free agency. However, the Dodgers might well retain all six starters through this winter, since they needed 16 starters last season. No major league team used fewer than eight starters last season.
The Maeda deal reflects the Dodgers’ priorities under the ownership of Guggenheim Baseball and the management of Andrew Friedman, the president of baseball operations, and Farhan Zaidi, the general manager.
Maeda, 27, is at least two years younger than the other top free-agent starters — David Price, Johnny Cueto and Jordan Zimmermann — and five years younger than Zack Greinke, whom the Dodgers lost in free agency to the Arizona Diamondbacks. Maeda would be the second-youngest starter in the Dodgers rotation — Wood is 24 — and Kazmir would be the only starter older than 28.
The Dodgers do not need to surrender a draft pick in order to sign Maeda and Kazmir, as they would have to sign Price or Zimmermann. If another team signs second baseman Howie Kendrick before the June draft, the Dodgers would have four picks in that draft before the start of the second round.
The collection of 2016 draft picks has become particularly important for the Dodgers. Under baseball rules, the Dodgers will be severely restricted on spending on amateurs in Latin America for the next two years, since they spent so lavishly there in 2015.
In the absence of a wave of Latin American signings, the draft picks would keep the talent flowing into the Dodgers’ revitalized minor league system. The Dodgers have not traded any top pitching prospects since Friedman and Zaidi arrived in the fall of 2014, resisting demands to do so in potential deals for Price, Cueto and Cole Hamels last summer and for Jose Fernandez this winter.
The Maeda and Kazmir deals do not require the Dodgers to give up any prospects. The Dodgers believe that as many as four starting pitching prospects — left-hander Julio Urias and right-handers Jose DeLeon, Jharel Cotton and Frankie Montas — could arrive in the major leagues by the end of next season.
Those four prospects — plus the six potential starters — give the Dodgers organizational depth and potential trade chips, should the team finally decide to trade a top prospect. There might be no currency in baseball more valuable than young starting pitching; in Wood and those four prospects, the Dodgers have five pitchers no older than 24 that could be ready to help a major league team.
Maeda went 15-8 with a 2.09 earned-run average last season. He faced 821 batters and gave up five home runs.
He pitched 206 innings last season, the fourth time in six years he has done so. His ERA over those six years has ranged from 1.53 to 2.60.
In addition to the undisclosed salary the Dodgers pay Maeda, the Dodgers will pay a $20-million posting fee to the Hiroshima Carp, Maeda’s Japanese club. Maeda had asked the Carp to make him available to major league teams last winter; the Carp declined.
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