This winter's free agent class is loaded with Japanese stars - ranging from Yoshibonu Yamamoto to former Angels two-way talent Shohei Ohtani, who seems likely to set the record for the largest free agent deal in MLB history this offseason.
But there are several other names worth keeping tabs on, especially if you're a Cubs fan exploring potential additions to the pitching staff. Chicago has been repeatedly connected to left-handed reliever Yuki Matsui and, in this weekend's 'Black Friday' column in The Athletic, Jim Bowden paired up the Cubs with another Japanese left-hander in Shota Imanaga.
Right now, as we all know, the Cubs are focused almost solely on Shohei Ohtani, as they look to bring the reigning 2023 AL MVP to the North Side. But given the team's need of pitching depth, it should come as no surprise Jed Hoyer is doing his homework on guys like Matsui and Imanaga, the latter of whom is expected to be posted this week.
Cubs connected to Shota Imanaga as search for rotation help continues
During his NPB career, Imanaga has been as reliable as they come - and a true control artist on the mound. Since the start of the 2021 campaign, the southpaw has walked fewer than 2 batters per nine, and over the course of his eight-year career, carries a respectable 2.4 BB/9 mark. In 2023, he whiffed nearly 30 percent of opposing hitters and posted a 2.80 ERA in 148 innings of work.
Given his age (Imanaga turned 30 in September), he won't command the $200 million+ Yamamoto is going to get on the open market (remember, Yamamoto is just 25) - but he won't come cheap, either. MLBTR projects Imanaga will receive a five-year, $85 million guarantee this offseason so, in other words, a similar deal to what the Cubs gave Jameson Taillon last winter.
With that more palatable price tag needs to come the understanding that he's probably not going to be that top-of-the-rotation stud Cubs fans are looking for to slot in alongside Justin Steele. That being said, he projects as a quality mid-rotation presence that should help lengthen a rotation that's already one of the deepest in the league.