While the free agent market continued to move at a snail's pace, a baseball source confirmed today that the Sox have reached agreement with Japanese pitcher Junichi Tazawa pending the outcome of a physical exam this week.
According to the same source, the 22-year-old Tazawa is due in Boston during the early or middle part of this week to undergo a physical that is seen largely as a formality. Official announcement of Tazawa's signing will likely come as late as this week, depending on the pitcher's precise travel schedule and the progress of his physical exam.
According to the same source, Tazawa's deal is a major league contract worth an estimated $3 million over three years, though Tazawa would not become a free agent at the end of the contract. By agreement between the player and team, Tazawa would become eligible for arbitration after he accrues three years of service time (as is the case with any player) and would not be eligible for free agency until he has six years of service (in this case, no earlier than the fall of 2014).
The fact that the deal is a major league contract -- as opposed to a minor league deal -- means only that Tazawa would be placed on the 40-man roster to start his career.
Recently, one Red Sox official indicated that Tazawa is expected to open his professional career in the minor leagues because he needs additional experience. Nonetheless, major league deals for players of the like are relatively unusual and indicate a certain amount of potential on the part of the player.
In 2005, the Sox drafted and signed reliever Craig Hansen to a major league contract that might be similar to that of Tazawa. Hansen agreed to a four-year deal worth an estimated $4 million guaranteed and was immediately placed on the 40-man roster. Though he opened his career in the minor leagues, he was in the majors before long.
While Tazawa's name has been bandied about for weeks, some accounts of him have been inaccurate. Tazawa's fastball has been clocked in the low 90s -- not in the mid- to high-90s, as has been reported in some places -- and he also possesses a good changeup and breaking ball.
Given the success of Daisuke Matsuzaka and Hideki Okajima, Sox officials seem cautious about overhyping Tazawa's talents. Though the Sox believe Tazawa could become an important part of their pitching staff, one evaluator believes that Tazawa will be at least comparable to former major leaguer Shigetoshi Hasegawa, a serviceable middle reliever and set-up man who pitched quite effectively for the Seattle Mariners and the then-Anaheim Angels from 1997-2005. Hasegawa went 45-44 with a 3.71 ERA in 517 appearances and posted a 1.48 ERA for the Mariners in 2003.
It is unclear whether the Sox view Tazawa in the long-term as a starter or reliever. The pitcher drew great attention in Japan because he opted to bypass the professional draft in Japan, thereby making himself eligible to play in the United States at a very young age.