The one free agent addition to the pitching staff I haven’t mentioned yet was the signing of Shun Yamaguchi, who joins the Blue Jays from the Japanese professional leagues. He signed a reported two-year, six million dollar deal, and has been a successful starter in Japan for several years now.
The 32-year-old made 26 starts last season, pitching to a record of 15-4, a 2.91 ERA, and a 1.159 WHIP across 170 innings for the Yomiuri Giants. He’s been a starting pitcher since 2014, however Yamaguchi began his professional career as a reliever, and we don’t know for sure how the Blue Jays plan to use him once he arrives in North America.
Before they signed Ryu, I expected that Yamaguchi would have a real chance to earn a rotation spot. I imagine they’ll still stretch him out this Spring and see how his repertoire looks in the role, but he’s going to have some solid competition for that fifth starter’s role.
There is plenty of off-season left, so we don’t know what the bullpen will look like by the time February rolls around, but as of now there is a pretty clear need in that area as well. The focus has been on the rotation throughout the winter, but now that Ryu, Roark, and Anderson have joined the fold, one could argue that Yamaguchi’s talents are needed in the bullpen. That said, if Yamaguchi can be an effective MLB starter and do it for just three million per season, I’m sure the Blue Jays would be thrilled to find other arms to add to the bullpen.
I suspect that Yamaguchi will have to really perform well during Grapefruit League play in order to earn a rotation job, but we’ll see what happens when the time comes. His ability to pitch multiple innings could be useful as a long-man in the bullpen as well, and he could stay stretched out that way in case the rotation ran into injury problems. My guess is that’s the role he’ll fall into to begin the year, but I really haven’t seen a lot of him yet, and I’d be happy if he proved me wrong.