The Indians today made their first-ever big league signing out of the Japan League, inking renowned closer Masahide Kobayashi to a two-year deal for $6.25 million, with a club option for 2010. The righthander will collect $3 million in both 2008 and 2009, with a $3.5 million club option or $250K buyout in 2010. In a market that has guaranteed two to three times as much to middling relievers, the Indians seem to have scored yet another value signing, although not one entirely without risk.
Kobayashi, 33, was Chiba Lotte's number-one draft pick in 1999, and has amassed a 2.79 career ERA over 445 games and 580 innings. His 229 career saves put him third on the all-time list of the Japan League, behind Shingo Takatusi (289), who pitched briefly for the White Sox before returning in 2006, and Kaz Sasaki (252), who is also the career saves leader for the Seattle Mariners. Similar to Kobayashi, Sasaki came over at age 32, signing a five-year, $30 million deal in 2000. Despite great success in Seattle, he asked to be released from the final year of his deal (worth $9 million) to return to Japan with his family, who were unhappy in the U.S.
While not apparently a big strikeout guy, Kobayashi's fastball reportedly sits in the mid-90's, and he has a deceptive delivery that has been compared (perhaps lazily) to Hideki Okajima's. Truth is, probably none of us has seen this guy, and he wasn't exactly on our radar. As an unrestricted free agent, Kobayashi was free to negotiate with all teams and not required to go through the well-publicized posting system, in which teams bid for exclusive negotiating rights. He reportedly would like to be a closer but wasn't going to insist on it, a sentiment that echoes comments from Joe Borowski a year ago.
UPDATE: Keith Law weighs in here ...
Okay, now ... you might as well start getting those Usual Suspects and hot-dog-eating jokes out of your systems right now. Let's just hope this guy can eat some pie this season.