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Shota Imanaga posted to MLB on Monday: What to know about Japanese lefty

Yoshinobu Yamamoto isn’t the only Japanese ace headed to the States this winter.

Shota Imanaga of Team Japan pitches in the second inning against Team USA during the World Baseball Classic Championship at loanDepot park on March 21, 2023 in Miami, Florida. Photo by Eric Espada/Getty Images

Yoshinobu Yamamoto has gotten all the buzz so far this winter — and with good reason, considering his ridiculous numbers — but he isn’t the only ace set to come to the States after starring in Japan. Yamamoto’s World Baseball Classic teammate, lefty Shota Imanaga, is also looking to make the jump from NPB to MLB, and his free agency has officially begun after being posted on Monday afternoon. Per Mark Feinsand:

For those unfamiliar with how this system works, all players looking to leave Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball to come to the Majors must be “posted” — basically, made available to MLB teams — before contract negotiations can begin. Once a player is posted, they have a 45-day window to sign with a big-league club before being returned to their Japanese team, in Imanaga’s case the Yokohama BayStars. If Imanaga does indeed reach an agreement somewhere (which he almost assuredly will), whichever team is lucky enough to land him will have to pay the BayStars a posting fee in addition to whatever contract they agree to with the player. Just how high that fee will be depends on the size of the contract:

  • Contract worth less than $25 million: 20% of contract value
  • Contract worth $25 million to $50 million: $5 million plus 17.5% of amount over $25 million
  • Contract worth more than $50 million: $9.275 million plus 15% of amount over $50 million

(For example: The $75 million contract that Kodai Senga signed with the Mets last offseason came with a $13.025 million posting fee.)

If you’re wondering whether Imanaga is worth the effort, the answer is absolutely yes, especially given how shallow this free-agency market is in starting pitching. The 30-year-old doesn’t have nearly Yamamoto’s upside, but he’d be a boon to any contender’s pitching staff; here’s everything you need to know.

Shota Imanaga scouting report

Imanaga has been a star in Japan from pretty much the moment he broke into Yokohama’s rotation as a 22-year-old back in 2016, compiling a 3.18 ERA over eight seasons while striking out more than a batter per inning. He won’t light up the radar gun, sitting in the low 90s with his fastball, but he throws that heater some 60% of the time and consistently fools hitters with it.

He’s largely a two-pitch pitcher — only one other offering, his slider, carries a usage rate of more than 15% — which could be a concern as he attempts to stick in a Major League rotation. Still, pitching demand far outweighs supply this offseason, especially from the left side, and Imanaga acquitted himself well in the WBC this past spring (including starting the final against Team USA). Even if Imanaga doesn’t work out as a traditional starter, that’s a designation that means less and less these days, and he figures to be at worst a multi-inning relief weapon.