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Diamondbacks sign Japanese closer Yoshihisa Hirano

The Diamondbacks are going overseas for bullpen help.

The Diamondbacks have been linked to multiple relievers in the free agent market this offseason, but ultimately didn’t sign anyone. Brandon Kintzler re-upped with Washington and Fernando Rodney moved on to the Twins. The team had already made a move towards their bullpen with the acquisition of Brad Boxberger back in November, but that wasn’t going to be enough to shore up a bullpen that stands to lose a lot of players with J.J. Hoover and Jorge De La Rosa also being free agents. The Diamondbacks made their first major move towards shoring up the back-end of the bullpen with the signing of Japanese closer Yoshihisa Hirano to a two-year deal worth $6M in total.

Here’s video from the WBC when Japan played the Netherlands in Group play:

Over the last five seasons, Hirano amassed 143 saves with a solid 9.4 K/9 vs. 2.4 BB/9 for the Orix Buffaloes in the NPB. The majors will be a significant step up in competition over the NPB, so there is some risk here. The payoff is significant if Hirano locks down the closer spot for $3M per year, as the going rate for closers was $16M per year in free agency as we learned last year and setup men going for $7-9M per year this month. At $3M per year, Hirano being a competent reliever in the back-end of the bullpen has the chance to generate really good surplus value on top of Bradley’s pre-arbitration salary and Boxberger slated for only $2M in his 2nd year of arbitration.

Hirano will be 34 when the 2018 season starts, which would make him exempt from international bonus spending rules and spending 10 years in the NPB also makes him exempt from the posting system as a true free agent. His repertoire consists of a low 90s fastball that’s complemented by a really devastating splitter and the occasional curveball. His game is mostly attacking the top of the zone with the fastball and the bottom of the zone with his splitter. This type of reliever is not unique to the Diamondbacks organization, as previous closers J.J. Putz and Jose Valverde were riser-splitter type pitchers and had great success in their tenures in Arizona.

This strikes as a possible low-risk high-reward type move that’s been Mike Hazen’s modus operandi since being hired as the GM of the Diamondbacks last offseason. With the ever increasing prices of free agent relievers, Hazen has been forced to get even more creative to find market inefficiencies to create surplus value for his team. Hirano, Bradley, and Boxberger are all controllable through the 2019 season with Bradley controllable through 2021 so this isn’t a 1-year run if this trio pans out. For the cost of $6.5M, which is less than what Bryan Shaw got from the Rockies per season, the Diamondbacks could have a strong trio to close out games.