The Chicago Cubs' prized free-agent pitcher signing continues to look great

Shota Imanaga's historic start to his MLB career makes him the best pitching acquisition of the offseason so far
Chicago Cubs v Atlanta Braves
Chicago Cubs v Atlanta Braves / Kevin C. Cox/GettyImages

The Chicago Cubs' signing of Shota Imanaga continues to look like one of the best deals of this past offseason. Jon Heyman of the New York Post confirmed that fact, ranking the move as the second-best of the winter.

The high praise is well-deserved, as Imanaga has transitioned seamlessly into pitching in America. His 0.95 ERA currently leads all of MLB while his FIP of 2.28 is the best in the National League. These marks are supplemented by a 51/8 strikeout-to-walk ratio and a WHIP at 0.94, while batters are hitting just .206 against him. Imanga is blowing away expectations so far as many were worried about his stuff and body transferring to the more demanding conditions of MLB, where pitchers have less rest and face more seasoned lineups than in the Nippon Professional League in Japan.

Even in his latest start against the intimidating Atlanta Braves lineup, which could be considered his worst start so far, Imanaga still turned in five scoreless innings with eight strikeouts.

Other teams paid more for less production

But Imanaga hasn't broken a sweat, because his 0.96 ERA is also the lowest a starting pitcher has posted through his first eight starts since 1981 (Fernando Valanzuela 0.50) and the lowest for any Cub since 1912. Impressive to say the least, but when you throw in the fact that Imanaga is making $9.25 million this year, which is less than what the Cubs are paying Drew Smyly ($10.5 million) and Kyle Hendricks ($16.5 million), signing him looks like an absolute steal.

Not to mention the fact that the Los Angeles Dodgers also signed a highly sought-after Japanese pitcher this offseason, Yoshinobu Yamamoto. Although Yamamoto has been very good so far, with a 3.21 ERA in his first nine starts, Imanaga has been better and the Cubs didn't have to sign the most expensive pitching contract in history like the Dodgers did (12 years, $325 million). Among the other top pitchers on Heyman's list, Imanaga is producing at a higher level while costing the Cubs much less than other teams.

The Dodgers are getting great value out of Tyler Glasnow, who currently leads the league with 81 strikeouts. But his contract also broke the bank to the tune of five years at $136.5 million. Similarly, Aaron Nola and Sonny Gray required their respective teams to ink contracts with beefy average annual values of around $25 million each.

Former Cubs' farmhand Dylan Cease is having a convincing reemergence for the San Diego Padres on a team-friendly deal ($8 million in 2024), but his price tag also included three of the team's top ten prospects and a big-league reliever. Corbin Burnes and Chris Sale also cost their teams prospects in addition to more expensive 2024 contracts.

At 30 years old, Imanaga is guaranteed to be on the Cubs' pitching staff for the next two seasons with mutual options for 2026 and 2027. With the injuries and bullpen struggles, the Cubs are leaning on Imanaga to lead the staff right now so hopefully he can continue to answer the call.