Dodgers sign pitcher Kenta Maeda from Japan

January 7, 2016

The Los Angeles Dodgers bolstered their shaky starting pitching today by announcing that the team had signed right-hander Kenta Maeda to an eight-year contract.

Other outlets have reported that the contract is primarily an incentive-laden deal because of concerns over Maeda's health.  In addition, the Dodgers paid a significant posting fee of approximately $20 million.

Maeda is known to rely heavily on breaking balls and off-speed pitches, and apparently to good effect, as he won the Japanese equivalent of the Cy Young award last season.

“We are excited to be bringing Kenta Maeda into the Dodger organization,” said Dodger President of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman. “We have had the chance to scout him extensively in Japan and on the international stage and believe he has all the tools to be a successful Major League starting pitcher. We were honored to hear of his strong desire to be a Dodger and that only added to our motivation to bring him on board. We look forward to Kenta adding another chapter to the Dodgers’ global legacy and to him strengthening our ballclub in the years ahead.”

Maeda, 27, provides a much-needed righty to a starting staff that is dominated by left-handers.  He led the Japanese Central League with 15 wins in 2015 with the Hiroshima Carp, going 15-8 with a 2.09 ERA in 29 starts, to win his second-career Sawamura Award, given to the league’s best pitcher.

Maeda struck out 175 against just 41 walks, while posting a 1.01 WHIP and holding opposing batters to a .222 average.  He allowed just five home runs in 206.1 innings (0.2 home runs allowed per 9.0 innings) and limited right-handed hitters to a .160 batting average.

Maeda has also been one of the top fielding pitchers in Japan, earning recognition as the best fielding pitcher in Nippon Professional Baseball five times in the past six seasons (2010, 2012-15).

With the success of so many Japanese pitchers in the Majors over the years, it has become easier to project whether a player can be successful in the Big Leagues.  Despite that reduced risk, many Dodgers fans are probably wondering today why the franchise could offer an eight-year deal -- albeit heavily-incentivized -- to a comparatively unknown pitcher of questionable health, instead of simply giving a multi-year deal to Zack Greinke, a proven and healthy ace-caliber starter who eventually left for Arizona.

In eight professional seasons with Hiroshima (2008-15), Maeda compiled a 97-67 record with a 2.39 ERA in 218 games (217 starts), including 28 complete games and 10 shutouts. During the course of his career, Maeda has posted a 1.05 WHIP and a 3.87 strikeout-to-walk ratio, while allowing an average of only 0.6 home runs per 9.0 innings.

Maeda pitched for Team Japan in the 2013 World Baseball Classic, where he was selected to the All-Tournament team after posting a 2-1 record with a 0.60 ERA and striking out 18 in 15.0 innings in three starts. He also faced Major League hitters during the 2014 Japan All-Star Series, when he allowed just two hits in 5.0 scoreless innings and picked up the win against a team of MLB All-Stars, which included Ben Zobrist, Robinson Cano, Evan Longoria, and Yasiel Puig.

Maeda, who will wear uniform No. 18, will become the eighth Japanese player in Dodger history, joining Hideo Nomo (1995-98, 2002-04), Kazuhisa Ishii (2002-04), Masao Kida (2003-04), Norihiro Nakamura (2005), Dave Roberts (2002-04), Takashi Saito (2006-07), and Hiroki Kuroda (2008-11).

The franchise’s ties with Japan date to 1956 when the Dodgers made their first of three post-season tours of the country (also: 1966 and 1993) and the club is widely credited for starting the influx of talent from Japan to the Major Leagues with the historic signing of Nomo in 1995.

To create room on the 40-man roster, Los Angeles designated infielder Ronald Torreyes for assignment.

By Staff of and news services

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