Dodger Thoughts

Jon Weisman's outlet for dealing psychologically with the Los Angeles Dodgers, baseball and life

Why Kenta Maeda offers high upside

Maeda headshotBy Jon Weisman

Twice during his introductory press conference today, speaking through a translator, new Dodger righty Kenta Maeda said he really looked forward to being in a “champagne fight” at the end of the season.

That Maeda acknowledged reported “irregularities” in the¬†physical¬†that was submitted to Major League teams pursuing the Japanese baseball star¬†certainly affected the structure of the eight-year, incentive-laden deal he signed, but¬†did not diminish the confidence that he or the Dodgers have that he’ll be in the thick of the¬†championship¬†bubbly.

“Obviously, we spent a lot of time evaluating and scouting Kenta over his very successful career in Japan,” Dodger president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman said. “We feel like the pitch mix will play here — obviously the fastball, slider is kind of his out pitch, his changeup has really come on, very good feel for a curveball. The ability to show so many different pitches and command them, coupled with the kind of athlete he is — he’s a tremendous athlete,¬†fields¬†his position well, holds runners well, can hit — obviously helps in the¬†National League.”

No one today¬†would talk in specifics about¬†what cropped up in Maeda’s physical, but Friedman said that he is “totally asymptomatic.”

(Not to mention limber …)

“We worked hard to try to figure out a way to share in the risk and share in the upside,” Friedman said, adding that “most if not all pitchers have some injury risk — we just happen to know about it more.”

Said Maeda:¬†“I’m not worried about this season at all. I am confident I will be able to pitch.”

The contract has a relatively low base salary and a nearly unprecedented length, with no opt-outs. Even if Maeda maxes out the incentives (mainly related to innings and games pitched), he could become a true bargain relative to his age, experience and production before his deal is even half over.

“The posting fee (to Japan for the rights to sign him) —¬†the backdrop of that $20 million and how to factor that in — I think contributed to the length,” Friedman said. “Without that, you have to figure out how to spread out over the course of the contract.”

While the Dodgers are never done making moves, Friedman was willing to state that the starting rotation is essentially in place, drawing candidates from a pool led by Clayton Kershaw, Scott Kazmir, Brett Anderson, Alex Wood, Hyun-Jin Ryu and Maeda, with plenty of depth in Oklahoma City.

“To the extent that¬†we have someone who has a little bit of injury risk, that’s fine as long as it’s factored in and accounted for, as long as we don’t treat it as if it’s not going to happen,” Friedman said. “You always have to be of the mind to have pitching depth. Injuries happen, things happen in the course of a season, and we feel we are in a much better position in terms of our depth than we were last year. A large part of that is our group of young arms that will now be in Triple-A¬†—¬†we had a little bit of a void last year — that will certainly contribute and help us this season and seasons to come.

Maeda Press Conference at Dodger Stadium

“This offseason has taken on more twists and turns publicly.¬†A lot of times during the offseason, there are a lot of twists and turns, things you on the verge of that change but just aren’t public, so from that standpoint it wasn’t that unusual. You always spend a lot of time going through different scenarios, having to change course, so you have to have alternate plans and options. We felt like we were really prepared in terms of different ways to pivot.”

As he formally bid farewell to playing in Japan, Maeda — who turns 28 on April 11, the day before the Dodgers’ home opener¬†— was¬†genuinely thrilled about being a Dodger, citing the team’s history and tradition. He said he tried to imitate Hideo Nomo’s tornado windup (when he was a 7-year-old kid — sigh), and that he remains close to his former Hiroshima Carp teammate Hiroki Kuroda.

Most of all, he can’t wait for the season to start.

“I’m very excited,” Maeda said. “I’m looking forward to playing in front of the fans at Dodger Stadium.”

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13 Comments

  1. Let’s hope if/when his arm does have an injury the backup plan will be ready as well.

    • jpavko

      Please keep the negativity to a minimum. The Dodgers have plenty of pitching depth that an inury won’t be a problem

      • As long as that depth is as good as what it’s replacing. All I’m saying. I do think the Dodgers have the best pitching depth in the game by far and that’s a good thing.

  2. Yup, outstanding depth and as much as I LOVED having as outstanding a pitcher as Zack was, I can’t quarrel at all with not having signed him to a contract that would have taken him to age 41 and at a record annual rate.

    Pitching wise, I think we will be totally fine.

    I think 2016 pivots on the offensive output of Puig, Turner, Pederson and to a lesser extent Seager who SEEMS very solid. If half those guys are what they’ve been at their best for a full season we’ll be highly competitive. If 3 or 4 of them are, plus AGon continues as he has and Ethier in a platoon role with someone(?) or Trace Thompson just produce solidly and not remarkably, we could be hell on wheels.

  3. Please – let’s not be “negative”. they didn’t resign Greinke – and they haven’t signed anyone who can really replace him. The Blue finished 2 games over .500 in games not started by Greinke or Kershaw last year. They’ve made one improvement in the lineup (Seager for Rollins) and suffered one loss (Utley for Kendrick), so I have no reason that the offense will be much different either. And they keep signing injured pitchers – Beachy, Maeda – even Kazmir has a significant injury history, albeit 3 years ago. Ryu is recovering from a shoulder; McCarty from Tommy John (is anyone really surprised that his arm fell off last year?) and who really expects that Anderson will stay off of the DL this year?

    Instead of signing Greinke, they sign injured guys and GMs. (How many GMs does it take to run a baseball team?) Really – they need Kasten, Freidman, Zaidi, Hunsicker, Byrnes, Colletti, and now Anthopolous? Too many cooks?

    • I’m hoping Kike plays more than Utley at 2B, or that will as stupid as giving Utley 7M in the first place.

    • “Colletti” and “run a baseball team” no longer are words that apply to the Dodgers. He was sidelined (kicked “upstairs”) in case you missed that.

  4. No one wants to be negative. But taking the 2015 Dodgers as a baseline is totally appropriate as that’s an indication of what might happen in 2016. Offensively, having Seager v. Rollins for a whole season should produce more runs but some of that will be cancelled by reduced production of Utley/Hernandez at 2b v. Kendrick. As noted before, belief that Hernandez can hit consistently is not supported by the volume of his minor league stats (722 career OPS). And Utley looked baked last year.
    Net, net the offense does not look stronger right now unless Puig revives.
    That is significant in the context of losing Greinke, as Dodgers were 23-9 in his starts and only gave him 3.94 runs in support. By contrast, Anderson and Wood got comparable run support and Dodgers were 21-22 in their starts. If the rotation is basically Kershaw and Anderson/Wood comparables in Kazmir/Ryu/Maeda that pencils out to about 85 wins considering Dodgers 20-13 record when Kershaw starts and a 65-64 record when all the remaining Dodgers start.
    In short, it will take a better offense to offset the loss of Greinke and his replacement by guys who are essentially 3.50 -3.90 ERA starters. So far that better offense has not been developed.

    • I agree that the offense needs to step up. I am a bit more optimistic on the situation at second base. In regard to Hernandez, you make him sound like Julio Cruz, who was a below average minor league hitter till age 28, before he hit gold in one season in the Bigs. Your Quique numbers cover him from age 17 through 22, when indeed he started hitting in the minors. That’s why he got look-sees from Houston and Miami and then made it on the Dodger roster last year. In 353 PA in the Bigs he has put up OPS+ 122. As regards Chase, he certainly isn’t what he once was, but in 34 games as a Dodger he provided WAR 0.9, as compared to Howie’s 1.1 in 117 games. (Baseball Reference).

  5. Hernandez’s value has varied tremendously based on his BABIP both in the majors and minors. Last year with LA he had a .364 BABIP which will undoubtedly regress. Steamer has him projected at 248/297/380 for 2016 or 88 RC+. They have Utley projected at 672 OPS and 89 RC+ . This contrast to Howie’s 749 OPS/ 109 RC+ last year. Yes, Utley’s WAR per PA was better than Kendrick’s due to Howie’s declining defense last year. But the projections show that 2b will likely be worse offensively even with this platoon arrangement..

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