A move to North America is not guaranteed, however. As noted in that Hochi News item, Sugano said earlier this month that he hadn’t yet fully decided on whether or not to make the jump to Major League Baseball, with the COVID-19 pandemic weighing as a factor in his decision. As we just saw yesterday with outfielder Haruki Nishikawa, it isn’t uncommon for Japanese players to reach the end of their 30-day posting period without having reached a deal with any MLB teams.
Beyond that uncertainty, it’s also possible that Sugano’s market has been somewhat reduced in number. Of the six teams linked to Sugano in rumors, two have made other significant pitching additions that may have removed them from the running. The Rangers already made one foray into the Japanese pitching market by signing Kohei Arihara to a two-year, $6.2MM contract. The Padres, of course, dominated headlines by swinging a pair of blockbuster trades for Yu Darvish and Blake Snell, and now headlines a rotation mix that also includes Dinelson Lamet, Chris Paddack, Adrian Morejon, Joey Lucchesi, and several impressive younger arms.
This isn’t to say that Texas or San Diego wouldn’t still have interest in Sugano, of course. Even with Arihara’s signing, the Rangers could still conceivably add to their rotation considering that Kyle Gibson, Jordan Lyles, and Kolby Allard all struggled in 2020. As for the Padres, they’re so clearly in win-now mode that they might see Sugano as another key piece for what they hope is a World Series contender. Adding another starting candidate serves as a further guard should Lamet have an injury setback, and it could allow the Padres to potentially float one of their younger arms as a trade chip in another trade.
The Red Sox also made a recent pitching addition in Matt Andriese, but while Andriese will be given a crack at a starting job, he might end up as a reliever or perhaps a swingman. Boston has enough questions in its rotation that signing Sugano would make sense even if Andriese did end up as a starter. Likewise, the Giants have retained Kevin Gausman via the qualifying offer and signed Anthony DeSclafani since the start of the offseason, but San Francisco’s pitching staff would certainly still use further reinforcement.
The Blue Jays and Mets have respectively been linked to almost every free agent this offseason, so it isn’t surprising that they’re both in on Sugano. Whether Sugano would be either team’s final major pitching addition is the question, as a case could be made that both Toronto and New York have enough arms on hand, or that another notable hurler (perhaps even Trevor Bauer) is required to really turn either rotation into a big plus.
With these options in mind, it’s time to open the floor to the MLBTR readership. Where do you think Sugano will pitch in 2021? (poll link for app users)