The Phillies are not your typical rebuilding team.
They have resources, you see. Unlike the Houston Astros or Kansas City Royals or even the New York Mets, teams that went through extended periods of rebuilding without much scratch to throw around, the Phils are different.
Blessed by the overstuffed coffers of Comcast, the Phillies are not a poor team. They have the ability to pay for talent, if the timing is right. And while it certainly is not the time for the Phils to spend more than $200 million on a seven-year deal for Zack Greinke, or even a three or five year deal for one of the next-tier starters, there is an option out there that has emerged as a good scenario for the rebuilding franchise.
Japan's Hiroshima Carp announced they will post their ace right-hander Kenta Maeda for clubs to bid on this off-season. Maeda is one of the best pitchers in Japanese baseball, and it's expected that he will fetch the maximum posting fee of $20 million by a number of teams.
This rule was changed from a couple years ago, when teams were allowed to submit a blind bid for whatever amount they desired. The old posting system favored teams like the Phils, who have money to burn. Even better, the posting fee doesn't count against the luxury tax, only the salary agreed to between whatever team wins the bidding and the player.
However, this new $20 million posting fee was aimed at evening the playing field, and should make Maeda one of the most sought-after free agents this winter. Unlike most of the free agents (with some notable exceptions), Maeda would not cost the Phils their second-round pick, drafting No. 1 overall in that round (their first-round pick, No. 1 overall, is protected).
Last year, in his age-27 season, Maeda posted a 2.09 ERA in 206 1/3 innings, striking out 175 and walking 41. He gave up just five home runs all year, and the Phillies have been aware of him for some time, even sending former general manager Ruben Amaro to Japan last year to scout him.
As for how good he can be, according to Fangraphs, his stuff is comparable to the Phils' own Aaron Nola.
That name, Aaron Nola, might provide us an interesting comp. Nola does not have great velocity. If he'd thrown more fastballs, he'd have been in the 15th percentile for four-seamer velocity, as well. His changeup (83.2 mph, -7.9 Pfx_x, .3 Pfx_z) is almost a straight match for Maeda's (82.7mph, -7.9 Pfx_x, .7 PFx_z). While Nola's big curveball is faster and probably better than Maeda's, Maeda has those two sliders that could function as something of an equivalent.
Of course, Nola has less than 80 big league innings under his belt, but you get the point. Maeda is not an ace, and he may not even be a No. 2, but could be a high-end No. 3 starter. And at just 28 years old next year, he should still be an effective pitcher in a couple years when the Phillies are hopefully once again competitive.
I would imagine the Phils will put up the $20 million it will cost to at least negotiate with Maeda, unless his representatives tell the team flat-out he doesn't want to pitch there. If Maeda chooses some other team, the Phillies would get that money back. The Arizona Diamondbacks are said to be among the teams most interested in signing Maeda, so the Phils will face some stiff competition.
A separate Fangraphs article tried to pin down what kind of contract Maeda could expect by comparing his stuff (strikeout rate, walk rate, velocity, etc.) to established big leaguers with similar numbers, close to Maeda's age.
The two names they came up with were Rick Porcello, who just signed a four-year, $82.5 million extension with Boston that kicks in this season, and Jordan Zimmermann, who just inked a deal with the Tigers for five years and $110 million.
While Maeda probably has more upside than Porcello, it's unlikely he'll reach the heights of Zimmerman, meaning we could be seeing a contract in the neighborhood of five years and $90 million. Of course, it's possible the Phils may have to overpay to get him, which could stretch the deal to five or six years.
Given the Phillies window to return to postseason contention, that may not be a terrible thing. But let's remember, numbers from the Japanese league do not translate to the Majors directly. The competition in Japan is not as good as in the States, and according to the Fangraphs article referenced above, an adjustment in Maeda's numbers perhaps limit his ceiling a bit.
Clay Davenport has translations for the Japanese leagues in 2014, and his MLB equivalent numbers for Maeda are a little depressing: a 4.09 ERA with a 5.5 K/9 and 2.5 BB/9. That would make him more like a younger Yovani Gallardo, who the crowd says will get $56 million over four years.
But maybe that's a little too pessimistic. After all, recent Japanese signings have performed pretty well in the Majors (stats below are career numbers).
Not all of the names above are success stories, but certainly enough of them are to be reasonably hopeful.
The Phils shouldn't break the bank in order to land Maeda, and if the D-Backs, New York Yankees and Chicago Cubs are all said to be interested, general manager Matt Klentak could find himself priced out of things pretty quickly.
However, a five-year deal in the $90 million range sounds about right. If some team is willing to give him more, than the Phils should wish him the best of luck.
But they should certainly pay the $20 million it will take to talk to the Japanese hurler.