Should the Detroit Tigers think far east for their next starting pitcher?
The 2021 MLB free agent buffet line is off to a rather slow start, but there have been some starting pitchers taken off the table with Kevin Gausman and Marcus Stroman accepting qualifying offers, Charlie Morton and Drew Smyly signing 1 year deals with the Atlanta Braves, and the Kansas City Royals inking Mike Minor to a two-year contract. This may implore Al Avila to move a little quicker in shoring up the rotation for the 2021 Detroit Tigers.
This leaves the bats for the bargain basement signings closer to spring training. With that in mind, is it time for Avila to broaden his international flavor a little further and look to The Land of the Rising Sun? As reported by Jon Morosi of MLB Network, Tomoyuki Sugano is expected to be posted in the next week or so by the Yumiuri Giants of the Japan Central League.
Sugano, entering his age 31 season, is a bonafide star in Japanese baseball. Many may recall his excellent performance in the 2017 WBC Semifinal against a star-studded USA lineup in which he went 6 strong innings giving up 1 run, 3 hits, while striking out 6 batters. This led the manager of team USA, former Detroit Tigers skipper and current special assistant Jim Leyland to marvel at the performance.
In his post-game remarks with Jon Trezza of MLB.com this is what Jim had to say “Tonight, the starting pitcher for Japan, he’s a big-league pitcher. He’s good. I mean, I was really impressed with him.” Leyland then goes into further detail: “I can’t tell you, for me, tonight, how impressed I was with their pitcher,” Leyland said. “I mean, I thought he was really good. Located on the ball on the outside corners, fastball. Threw 3-0 sliders. That’s pretty impressive.” Perhaps that familiarity with him will have left an impression and have Jim giving Al Avila a little nudge to kick the tires on taking a shot with Sugano.
Taking a dive into his statistics in Japan, Tomoyuki Sugano sports a career record of 101-50 with a 2.34 ERA, 1.035 Whip, 7.6 H/9, .6 HR/9, 1.8 BB/9, and an 8.0 K/9 in 8 professional seasons. This shows us we have a solid pitcher here who limits the free passes and keeps the ball in the ballpark. In viewing that 2017 Team Japan performance, Sugano was featuring a low 90’s fastball that topped out at 94 MPH, a mid 80’s splitter, and a low 80’s curveball that had a great 12-6 break. The MLB statcast data from that game had that curveball with an average 2859 RPM, topping out at a very impressive 3079. He has the tools to translate very well and make new pitching coach Chris Fetter a very happy camper.
How much will it take for Al Avila to pry loose from the wallet of Chris Ilitch? First off there is the posting fee. Once he has been posted, Sugano will have 30 days to negotiate with any club. The fee going back to the Yomiuri Giants should he sign would be 20 percent of the first 25 million, 17.5 percent of the next 25 million, and 15 percent of anything over 50 million. This market is still very difficult for me to judge and there will be other teams interested but I’m thinking something in the ballpark of 3 years and 36 million could get the job done making the total commitment 41.925 million dollars. Certainly not a small risk for an unproven major league commodity, but not so large as to cripple the ongoing building of the franchise at the major league level.
If ownership and Big Al are serious in making a move forward, someone to stabilize the rotation while we find out exactly what we have with Tarik Skubal, Casey Mize, Matt Manning and the other potential rotation pieces is an absolute must. Perhaps coupled with a few other ideas, featured by Jake Boes, the Detroit Tigers could make a move over the 70 win mark for the first time since 2016 and show some real promise for 2022 and beyond. Should the Tigers take a shot at some risk-reward here? If the price is in a reasonable range I say go for it. The hiring of AJ Hinch symbolizes that they are serious about winning, now it’s time to back it up.