Blue Jays: Club will regret not signing Tomoyuki Sugano last off-season
This past off-season, the Toronto Blue Jays were one of the most active franchises when it came to be interested in free-agent players.
Almost every day it seemed like Ross Atkins and the Blue Jays front office were either “interested” or “checking in” on every high-profile free agent like Trevor Bauer, D.J. LeMahieu, and J.T. Realmuto (among others). While the club was interested in multiple players, they did walk away with quite a haul, signing George Springer to a six-year deal and inking Marcus Semien, Tyler Chatwood, David Phelps, Kirby Yates, and Robbie Ray to one-year deals.
Not every player signed this off-season has benefitted the team (Yates and Phelps are done for the season while Chatwood implodes once every three to five games) but Semien and Ray have been great additions to a team looking to make the playoffs for the second year in a row.
One free agent the Blue Jays seemed very interested in this past off-season was Japanese starting pitcher Tomoyuki Sugano.
The Toronto Blue Jays offered a contract to Japanese pitcher Tomoyuki Sugano this past off-season, and while he did not accept the offer and returned to Japan, the club may regret not offering more money for his services in the near future.
The Yomiuri Giants posted the eight-year veteran in early December last season, and while the right-hander drew significant interest from the Jays and other teams around the league, he did not find a deal to his liking and returned to the Giants on a new contract. The Jays were so interested in Sugano that they reportedly offered him a contract but it wasn’t enough to convince him to jump over to Major League Baseball.
Prior to being posted, Sugano was one of the top pitchers in Nippon Professional Baseball (Japan’s highest league), posting sub 3.00 ERA six times while also racking up more than 1200 strikeouts with just 265 walks on his way to two Sawamura Award’s (the NBPs top pitcher), two Central League MVP awards, and three Mitsui Golden Glove Awards.
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This season, the right-hander is once again pitching well for the Giants, appearing in eight games so far while posting a 2.72 ERA with 38 strikeouts, 11 walks, and a 1.027 WHIP through 49.2 innings pitched.
He also has two complete games on the year but did miss a few weeks earlier this season after experiencing minor elbow discomfort. Sugano was recently named to Japan’s national team for the upcoming Olympics being held later in July alongside former major league pitcher Masahiro Tanaka.
While not every Japanese pitcher who comes to Major League Baseball is guaranteed to succeed (flashbacks to Shun Yamaguchi), Sugano comes with a pretty high pedigree and a winning track record that just seems worth the risk with how he could have potentially helped the Blue Jays early this season.
Even if Sugano was to come over and post a 3.00-4.00 ERA early this season, the Jays would not have had to use a mirage of bullpen games or starting pitchers like T.J. Zeuch, Anthony Kay, and Ross Stripling who were struggling at the time (although both Kay and Stripling have pitched well as of late, just not early this season) and that could be a difference-maker as the team heads into July in terms of games back within the AL East.
Comparison-wise, if Sugano was to make the move and perform similar to how Tanaka fared with the Yankees (3.74 ERA over 1054.1 innings pitched), that would be a heck of a deal that could work well for the Jays given the current rotation and how the one addition wouldn’t hold back on upcoming pitching prospects like Alek Manoah, Simeon Woods-Richardson, and Nate Pearson.
The risk will be there that the transition could result in Yamaguchi 2.0, but the same could be said for any player the Blue Jays sign who has major league experience (I.e. diesel engine Tanner Roark).
While the terms of the potential offer for Tomoyuki Sugano’s services were never fully disclosed, if he continues to follow the same trajectory that he is currently on plus a solid Olympics appearance, if he were to get posted again this upcoming off-season, the interest will be even higher and the price will most certainly be even larger for his services.
A missed opportunity and a move the Blue Jays might regret later down the line if he does indeed come to Major League Baseball next season and finds himself on another club.