Tomoyuki Sugano Blue Jays Rumors (www.mlb.com)

TORONTO — Deadlines spur action, making the pending decision of Japanese right-hander Tomoyuki Sugano important for the Blue Jays, regardless of where he signs.
Sugano was posted on Dec. 8 by his Nippon Professional Baseball club, the Yomiuri Giants, where he’s starred for eight seasons, giving him until Thursday at

TORONTO — Deadlines spur action, making the pending decision of Japanese right-hander Tomoyuki Sugano important for the Blue Jays, regardless of where he signs.

Sugano was posted on Dec. 8 by his Nippon Professional Baseball club, the Yomiuri Giants, where he’s starred for eight seasons, giving him until Thursday at 5 p.m. ET to negotiate with MLB clubs. Sugano’s decision is expected on Tuesday, though, and any action involving a free agent of his caliber is good news for a market that still has plenty of dominos waiting to fall.

With the Blue Jays a potential suitor for Sugano, there’s a sensible fit. Toronto would love to add another No. 1 or No. 2 caliber arm to go alongside Hyun Jin Ryu and top prospect Nate Pearson, and while projections on the 31-year-old Sugano are mixed, he’s expected to profile, at minimum, as a sturdy middle-of-the-rotation arm.

The Blue Jays were involved in the pursuit of Ha-Seong Kim on the international market earlier this offseason before he signed with the Padres, and they dipped in last offseason. First, the club signed Japanese right-hander Shun Yamaguchi, also of Sugano’s Yomiuri Giants, then brought Dominican right-hander Rafael Dolis back to the Major Leagues after he pitched four seasons with the Hanshin Tigers.

Speaking in mid-December, general manager Ross Atkins credited director of pro scouting Ryan Mittleman and vice president of international scouting Andrew Tinnish for their work on that front, which now stretches to include Sugano.

“They have done an incredible job of making sure, from very early on, that we’re prepared in those markets and have done the work on those players as well,” Atkins said, playing his cards understandably close to his chest.

Sugano is one of Japan’s most decorated pitchers over the past decade, where he owns a career 101-49 record with a 2.32 ERA in NPB with the Yomiuri Giants. He won the Sawamura Award as the league’s top pitcher in both 2017 and ’18, and he is coming off a comparable season in ’20, with a 1.97 ERA over 137 1/3 innings. Sugano’s Japanese club will receive a release fee equivalent to 20 percent of the first $25 million USD guaranteed, 17.5 percent of the next $25 million, and 15 percent of anything beyond $50 million.

Sugano represents two things for the Blue Jays. First, he is a fairly straightforward free-agent option, one who could fill a rotation need with some upside. On the other hand, Sugano perfectly encapsulates the larger challenge facing the club as we shuffle into January.

The MLB offseason is, in the simplest of terms, a game of musical chairs. Much of the market is waiting on names at the top like George Springer, DJ LeMahieu, J.T. Realmuto and Trevor Bauer, all with whom the Blue Jays are expected to be involved. Once those names start to sign, the music speeds up as teams who miss out on a Springer, for example, hustle to Plan B, Plan C and so on.

Throughout this process, though, both Atkins and club president and CEO Mark Shapiro have said that this offseason could take multiple forms. Acquiring one or two top-end players via free agency or trade is certainly on the table, but spreading that money across three to five “very good” players could have a similar impact.

The question, then, becomes whether the Blue Jays want to jump the market with Sugano or similar players in the large “middle tier,” or wait out Springer’s decision before moving down the list. It’s a complicated answer, of course, given the slow speed of free agency and the understandable desire of free agents to wait for the market to be set above them, but Toronto has consciously set itself up to be agile.

“We feel like there’s enough opportunity at different junctures for us to be disciplined and patient,” Atkins said in December. “Just like the fans, we would certainly prefer to have clarity as soon as possible, because that impacts the next move you make. It impacts the shaping of all your preparation. We do feel like we’re prepared and have done the work for that time. When we have to make a decision, we’re ready.”

If it’s not Toronto for Sugano, the Blue Jays still have plenty of options, and it’s not just limited to free agency. The Padres’ deal with the Cubs for Yu Darvish, for example, would have made a lot of sense for the Blue Jays, and it can also act as a blueprint for how the club can use its financial flexibility to take on contracts while giving up minimal prospect capital in trade.

Sugano’s decision will represent action, though, and for a club like the Blue Jays — who are expected to have every opportunity to drive the market when the dominos really start to fall — any action at this point is good news.

Keegan Matheson covers the Blue Jays for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @KeeganMatheson.



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