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Diamondbacks linked to Japanese pitcher

Reports indicate discussions with Shintaro Fujinami

Samurai Japan v MLB All Stars - Game 4 Photo by Atsushi Tomura/Getty Images

An interesting story over at MLB Trade Rumors overnight, citing and translating a Japanese language report out of Nikkan Sports. “The Diamondbacks have shown interest in Japanese pitcher Shintaro Fujinami, according to a report from Nikkan Sports. The report also lists the Giants and Red Sox as other teams in the mix but suggests Arizona is emerging as one of the favorites to work out a deal with the right-hander. Fujinami was made available to major league clubs via the posting system on December 1.” This gives teams 45 days to negotiate with the pitcher, otherwise he would remain under the control of his team. If a deal is struck, then the team will get an additional fee, probably 20% of the contract’s value.

The MLBTR story is definitely worth a read, since it goes into more details about the pitcher than I could possibly hope to find out. It appears he has struggled with his control in the past, which has caused him to split time between his team, the Hanshin Tigers, and the Japanese minors. But 2022 was significantly better in that department, cutting his walks by more than half, his rate dropping from 16.8% to 7.6%. If that change is indeed an indication that the 28-year-old is indeed “fixed”, then he is an intriguing prospect. The report says, “He’s long had an arsenal that intrigues scouts, with a fastball that usually sits in the mid-90’s and has topped triple-digits in the past.”

While he has operated as a starter for most of his career, it’s not impossible that the D-backs would look at him as a bullpen piece - either immediately, or if the walk-rate continues to be an issue, moving him there. It obviously brings to mind the last Japanese import purchased by the team. Yoshihisa Hirano, who was a solid reliever for Arizona in 2018-19, posting a 3.47 ERA (125 ERA+). After three years in the majors - he spent a year in Seattle after his time with the D-backs, though was less successful there - Hirano returned to Japan. He spent this season as the closer for the Orix Buffaloes, saving 28 games with an ERA of 1.57. If Fujinami can be as good for Arizona, this would be a useful pickup.