Sugano Staying Put

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Nathan Grimm
·8 min read
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Tomoyuki Sugano picked the wrong winter to test Major League Baseball's icy free agent waters.

The Japanese ace will not be coming to America in 2021 after his negotiating window closed Thursday without him striking a deal with an MLB club. Sugano will instead stay with the Yomiuri Giants of Japan's Central League, inking a four-year, $40 million contract with the organization.

The 31-year-old should have found a more pleasant landscape after dominating overseas, twice winning the coveted Sawamura Award given to the top starting pitcher in the league. In eight seasons in the Nippon Professional Baseball league the right-hander is 101-50 with a 2.34 ERA, 1.035 WHIP and 1,216 strikeouts in 1,362 innings of work.

Sugano attempted to make the leap at a time when MLB teams are concerned with finances following an abbreviated and fan-less 2020 season, though, and the few teams willing to spend money this offseason apparently had better uses for it than to seriously pursue him. The Mets on Thursday acquired a different starter (you might have heard) and the Padres, another team linked to Sugano in recent weeks, made some additions to their staff last week as well (you might have heard).

Other suitors connected to Sugano such as the Giants and Blue Jays did not make such additions and thus have fewer reasons to have not pushed harder for him. To be fair, the Giants' window is closer to closing than opening; the Blue Jays, well, anyone who's seen "Letterkenny" knows they do things a little different north of the border (to be fair).

As former Fangraphs and The Athletic writer Sung Min Kim speculated on Twitter, the decision may not have been made for Sugano, either. The contract he received from Yomiuri is plenty lucrative, and the comforts of home and familiarity with the NPB may have been more attractive to Sugano than plunging into a new situation -- one that has proven difficult for some international players in normal years, let alone whatever climate might await professional baseball in the coming months.

Regardless of whose decision it was, Thursday's news does not mean we won't ever see Sugano in the majors. As part of his new deal, Sugano can opt out after each of the first three seasons of his deal, meaning if revenue returns to MLB franchises in 2021 and next winter is accompanied by more friendly seas for free agents he could once again be posted in hopes of making the leap.

Grossman, Tigers strike a deal

In other news that did come to fruition, the Tigers sneakily added a nice player to their improving roster on Tuesday.

The Detroit club and outfielder Robbie Grossman came together on a two-year, $10 million contract that will pay the 31-year-old $5 million in each of his two seasons in the Motor City. Grossman can add up to $500,000 in performance-based bonuses each season as well.

"They were very aggressive in letting me know that I was a guy that they really wanted," Grossman said Wednesday. "That meant a lot to me. ... I'm just lucky enough that the Tigers had that much confidence in me. They proved it and now it's my job to go out there and earn it every day."

The move may not pique much interest because of the parties involved, but Grossman has long hovered around league average as an offensive player, and he was quietly pretty good for the A's in 2020. In 192 plate appearances, the switch-hitter batted .241/.344/.482 -- good for a 126 wRC+ -- and was worth 1.3 wins above replacement, per Fangraphs.

His bat and veteran presence will be a welcome addition in Detroit, where the team got a pedestrian .243/.289/.381 line from its left fielders in 2020. (The outfield as a whole hit a shockingly awful .236/.288/.366 in 58 games.) Grossman will be the team's everyday left fielder heading into 2021, joining JaCoby Jones in center and the promising Victor Reyes in right.

And while it's easy to write off the move as not having any fantasy value, Grossman proved worthy of some mixed league speculation in the 2020 sprint. Those in deep mixed leagues, especially ones that use on-base percentage, would do well to keep Grossman in mind in the endgame of drafts and in the early weeks of the regular season.

Dodgers seeking mightier pen

It's an arms race in the NL West -- pun absolutely intended -- and the Dodgers are not standing idly by as the Padres get better.

The reigning champs kept an important piece of their 2020 run when they retained reliever Blake Treinen on a two-year, $17.5 million deal Tuesday. The contract includes an $8 million club option for 2023.

The 32-year-old took a one-year deal in hopes of re-establishing some value in 2020, and as part of the Dodgers' bullpen he posted a 3.86 ERA and 1.208 WHIP with 22 strikeouts in 25 2/3 innings of work during the regular season. In the playoffs, Treinen proved one of manager Dave Roberts' more reliable relievers, getting into 11 games and registering a 4.76 ERA and 0.88 WHIP across 11 1/3 innings.

Not content with bringing back Treinen to a bullpen that also recently added former Brewers closer Corey Knebel and which already includes holdovers Kenley Jansen, Brusdar Graterol, Victor Gonzalez, Joe Kelly and others, the team on Thursday was also reported to have "significant interest" in free agent reliever -- and former closer for the aforementioned division-rival Padres -- Kirby Yates, per Jorge Castillo of the Los Angeles Times. Yates threw only 4 1/3 innings in 2020 before surgery to remove bone chips from his right elbow ended his season, but he was an All-Star and received Cy Young votes as recently as 2019.

Yates is reportedly seeking an incentive-laden, one-year deal worth roughly $5 million, as reported last week by Kevin Acee of the San Diego Union-Tribune. That kind of deal seems right down the alley for the Dodgers, whose pitching strategy in recent years has been to throw a lot of darts in hopes that a few of them are bullseyes.

We'll see if they can hit the mark once again.

Quick Hits: While interest in Yates seems significant, the Dodgers' interest in fellow free agent reliever Liam Hendriks has "dissipated," according to Castillo ... Jon Heyman of MLB Network reports that the White Sox are among the teams in on free agent reliever Brad Hand. They join the Mets, Blue Jays, Dodgers, and possibly several other clubs. Hendriks is the top available option on the free agent relief market, and the White Sox have also been tied to him, but Hand is positioned as a pretty great fallback option after delivering a 2.05 ERA, 0.77 WHIP, and 29/4 K/BB ratio over 22 innings last season for Cleveland while tallying a league-high 16 saves. Maybe there will be some movement soon ... According to Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic, the Angels are showing trade interest in Cubs catcher Willson Contreras. Rosenthal notes that Angels manager Joe Maddon "was a strong advocate" for Contreras during their time together with the Cubs, so it could be kind of a natural landing spot if the new front office in Anaheim is willing to meet the asking price. Max Stassi currently projects as the Halos' primary catcher but he required surgery in October for a torn labrum in his left hip and doesn't have near the track record of Contreras offensively. There could be something brewing here as Chicago potentially looks to shed another big piece for prospects ... Anthony DiComo of MLB.com reports that the Mets will be in attendance at Corey Kluber's throwing session next week. The Nationals will also be present when Kluber throws for teams on January 13. Injuries have limited the 34-year-old to eight starts over the past two seasons, so he's going to have to show that his stuff has bounced back. Still, with his track record, it's easy to see why a wide range of teams are intrigued ... Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic hears from a team in contact with Jake Odorizzi that the free agent starter "expects to land a three-year contract in the $36 million to $42 million range." That might seem like a lofty expectation for a guy who threw just 13 2/3 innings last season due to injuries and had an ugly 6.59 ERA when healthy, but the free agent market for starting pitchers is quite thin beyond top dog Trevor Bauer. Odorizzi isn't tied to draft pick compensation either after accepting the Twins' qualifying offer last winter, so that could broaden his appeal a bit. MLB.com's Mark Feinsand reported Tuesday that the Red Sox are among the teams showing serious interest in the 30-year-old right-hander ... Astros signed RHP Ryne Stanek to a one-year, $1.1 million contract. Stanek officially joins the Astros after being non-tendered by the Marlins. The right-hander has been most effective as an opener, but has had a moderate level of success as a high-leverage reliever; a role that Jake Kaplan of The Athletic reports he'll compete for in spring training.