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Zaidi explains Giants' hesitancy to pursue Imanaga in free agency

Zaidi explains Giants' hesitancy to pursue Imanaga in free agency originally appeared on NBC Sports Bay Area

Two months into the 2024 MLB season, the Giants might be kicking themselves for not going above and beyond to sign a Japanese star player this offseason.

No, not Shohei Ohtani nor Yoshinobu Yamamoto. But hey, if the shoe fits ...

San Francisco heavily pursued Ohtani and Yamamoto this winter but came up empty in both sweepstakes after the two players signed with the rival Los Angeles Dodgers. However, there was a third Japanese star player who was available that teams like the Giants might regret not pursuing extensively.

San Francisco was one of seven teams, including the Boston Red Sox, Chicago Cubs, Baltimore Orioles, Houston Astros, Pittsburgh Pirates and Milwaukee Brewers, to express interest in free-agent left-handed pitcher Shota Imanaga this offseason, The Athletic reported in a recent feature story on the pitcher, citing sources familiar with the negotiations.

San Francisco initially was reported to have some interest in Imanaga before he signed a four-year, $53 million contract with the Cubs, but it doesn't appear the Giants ever offered the 30-year-old a contract.

The Athletic spoke with Giants president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi, among other MLB executives, who explained why San Francisco had hesitations about Imanaga after completing an internal evaluation of the unproven free agent.

“Our pitch-grade models really liked him,” Zaidi said. “They had plus grades on all three of his pitches — fastball, split and breaking ball. But our scouting reports weren’t as strong, and it’s understandable because what makes his pitches so effective doesn’t jump out to the naked eye. When you layer in the competition gap in scouting international professionals, it’s always easier to bank on louder tools than subtler skills like having pitches with unique movement patterns.

“The availability of pitch data from the Pacific Rim has theoretically made these valuations more sound, but there’s still a leap to take when you can’t hang your hat on high-end velocity. I imagine there are scouts around the game that did see him as a high-end starter in the big leagues, but I suspect that the teams that were highest on him put the greatest stock in their pitch-model valuations.”

In 10 starts with the Cubs this season, Imanaga has a 5-1 record with a microscopic 1.86 ERA in 58 innings pitched with 59 strikeouts and 10 walks.

Although it's still early, Imanaga already is one of the best pitchers in baseball and is among the favorites to win the NL Cy Young award this season, proving teams, like the Giants, wrong for not heavily pursuing him in free agency.

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