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Orioles Sign First Japanese Player

Took me a day to get this up because of an airport-to-airport shuffle, but the Orioles officially signed their first Japanese starting pitcher yesterday, inking Koji Uehara to a two-year deal worth $10 million, though the deal also has another $6 million in reachable incentives.

Adding Uehara is a start, but in truth he's not the Japanese starter the organization has truly been after. That's Kenshin Kawakami, who the team reportedly is still negotiating with despite earlier claiming that they'd given his agents their final offer.

None of that means that Uehara won't be a solid addition. Far from it. But no matter how people analyze Uehara's game while he was pitching with the Yomiuri Giants -- he was a closer for the Japanese Yankees last year -- he's not a top-of-the-rotation guy.

In fact, former Blue Jays personnel wonk turned ESPN analyst Keith Law ranked Uehara 22nd on his annual list of top-available free agents. For that spot, Uehara seems like a steal. But Law ranked him there for specific reasons: He anticipated the former Giant ending up on a National League team with a hitter's park.

More specifically, here's what Law's scouting report had to say about the future Camden Yards starter:

In the American League, he'd be more of a fourth starter, but would have to have some luck keeping the ball in the park to keep his ERA under 4.00.

There you go: Koji Uehara, your new Orioles No. 4 starter. Now, he really could be a solid No. 4 if Baltimore finds a way to sign Kawakami, but all signs are that the Braves are putting on a big press for him right now, so there's serious company for his services. We could find out by the end of the week where he ends up, and how that affects Baltimore's chase to add more arms.

And just for good measure, here's another terrific Patrick Newman take on the Uehara signing. It's a comprehensive recap of a significant move in Japanese baseball, as is always the case with NPB Tracker.

By Cameron Smith  |  January 7, 2009; 3:53 PM ET
Categories:  Orioles  
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I had heard a report that the O's were scouting a pair of Japanese pitchers. Is there another one in the pipeline? Surely they wouldn't have spent all this money scouting one player.

Posted by: Brue | January 7, 2009 10:36 PM | Report abuse

another Japanese pitcher who might have been an interesting LH reliever, Iwase, resigned with Chunichi and never filed for free agency.

Posted by: jca-CrystalCity | January 8, 2009 9:13 AM | Report abuse

Brue - the O's main target was thought to be Kawakami. He is likened to Kuroda (I think NPBTracker said he was better), but I also think saw reports of an injury risk.

Posted by: jca-CrystalCity | January 8, 2009 9:16 AM | Report abuse

Smoltz to the Red Sox? Really?

Posted by: JohninMpls | January 8, 2009 12:35 PM | Report abuse

And Rocco, most likely.

Think of it as a rich team's Shaun Hill. Smoltz will not pitch until June at the earliest. The Sox like to go into the season with an extra MLB arm or two down in Pawtucket or rehabbing. They like to go into a season with 7 or so guys they'd feel comfortable having in the rotation. Think Colon last year. They also like to give older pitchers contracts tied to performance. When they brought back Wells in '06, I think they had a similar, low guarantee, many reachable options if healthy contract. That was sort of how Schilling's contract was structured last year. If Smoltz is healthy, then he pitches a bit over half a year, makes good money, as is as good a #3 - #4 pitcher as any team will have in the playoffs. If he isn't, they aren't out much more than Dmitri money.

Relating it to Shaun Hill, the big urge of some to not even invite him to camp because he has been hurt the past two years is pretty foolish. Again, no one is counting on him, but if he's able to go, there is an incredible upside (as his 123 ERA+ from 2007 demonstrates). He's low risk depth who is not going to get much more than $500K in arbitration.

Posted by: jca-CrystalCity | January 8, 2009 3:16 PM | Report abuse

Keith Law had a nice scouting report on the O's first Japanese pitcher saying he would give up a lot of home runs in Camden Yards, but was a great pound the strike zone kind of pitcher who would put up a lot of innings without wearing out the pitching coach.

Posted by: Juliasdad | January 8, 2009 3:34 PM | Report abuse

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