Washington has been rumored to have some interest in Yu Darvish, one of the best pitchers we’ve seen in Japan for years who may (we still don’t know for sure) be available this winter through the posting system. While Darvish would be a nice fit in any team’s rotation, there’s much more uncertainty to the process that an interested team will need to follow for the possibility of bidding on his services. International free agency, however, is a much more certain path which it would seem the Nationals are not opposed to looking into.
MLB.com’s Bill Ladson is reporting that the Nationals have expressed some interest in left-handed starter Tsuyoshi Wada. Wada has spent his entire career with the Fukuoka Softbank Hawks. He won the Pacific Coast League Rookie of the Year Award in 2003 and has twice participated in the NPB All Star Game. This past season he went 16-5 with a 1.51 ERA and was the team’s Game 1 starter in the PCL Championship Series (which he won – allowing one run in seven innings). MLBTR first reported that Wada was hoping to move to the Majors this winter.
For those wondering what type of pitcher Wada is, I’ll refer to you to a brief scouting report thanks to Patrick Newman of NPB Tracker and FanGraphs. Wada features three pitches – a high-80′s fastball, circle change, and slider – and reminds Newman of Dallas Braden. I’ve also seen some comparisons to Jamie Moyer. Wada will be 31 in February and there is no certainty to how easily he’ll adjust to the Majors.
The history of pitchers coming from Japan to the US is lengthier than you might think. Many people assume that more of these players have disappointed – Daisuke Matsuzaka, Kei Igawa – but there have been a fair share of successes – Hideo Nomo, Kazuhiro Sasaki. There have also been numerous cases of guys who are serviceable for a 2-3 year stretch – Hisanori Takahashi, Hideki Okajima, Shigetoshi Hasegawa.
Should Wada come to play in the Majors he could potentially fall into any of those categories. The question then becomes whether the risk is one worth taking and I’d have to say that yes, it is worth the chance as long as the terms make sense. Wada profiles somewhere between Braden and Moyer by many accounts. Both Braden and Moyer have had their moments throughout their careers – Braden’s Mother’s Day perfect game comes to mind and let’s not forget that Moyer’s been pitching since 1986 – so the upside is appealing. There is the worse case scenario, however, that Wada is the second coming of Igawa – who set franchise records for the Yankees, only for their Triple-A affiliate.
Wada won’t officially become a free agent until December 1st so anything we hear between now and then may contain a fair amount of speculation. I believe the NPB playoffs are not yet complete so he may not yet be focused on what his options may be. Reportedly the Dodgers also have some interest. This is purely my own speculation but there could be interest from Oakland as well considering their failed attempt to sign Hisashi Iwakuma last winter and their potential rotation opening should they trade a starter.