The A’s made their 5th – FIFTH! – free agent addition of the off-season this past week by announcing the signing of Japanese pitcher Shintaro Fujinami.
He was a heralded pitching prospect out of high school whose electric talent – 98 MPH fastball, wipe-out splitter and decent slider – has never quite come together due to control issues. He improved that part of his game in 2022 and the Hanshin Tigers honoured his wish to be made available to MLB teams this off-season.
Fujinami is no sure thing to be successful in the Majors, especially as a starting pitcher, but the old saying rings true: that’s why he’s joined the A’s!
Oakland were prepared to give him assurances that he will begin the season in the starting rotation, rather than the bullpen as some other MLB teams were offering, and signed him to a one-year, $3.25M contract with no additional option years attached to it.
For Fujinami, the ideal scenario will be to prove his worth as a viable starting pitcher and then sign a multi-year deal in twelve months’ time.
For the A’s, he’s precisely the sort of low-risk, good reward signing they should be using a roster spot on in 2023. If it doesn’t pan out then it’s no real loss. If we get a good half-season from him and trade him for a prospect then it will be $3.25M (plus $650k posting fee to Hanshin) well spent.
The unknowns with Fujinami also mean us fans can dream that we might have just signed someone a little bit special to get excited about. The A’s are even holding a press conference on Tuesday to announce his arrival, which doesn’t happen all that often.
We hear that our friends at the Oakland 68s may be getting their drums out to give him a welcome too.
It’s not quite the glitz and the glamour of signing someone to a $300M contract, but something’s better than nothing when nothing is all we got last year.
Options Aplenty in the Rotation
Fitness depending, Fujinami will join our other starting pitcher free agent Drew Rucinski in the starting rotation alongside Cole Irvin and Paul Blackburn, provided the latter is back healthy after the finger injury that ended his break-out 2022 campaign early.
That leaves us with a gaggle of arms to compete for the fifth spot and other starting opportunities as the season progresses. Currently they shape up as follows:
James Kaprielian – his timetable from shoulder surgery in early December is still a little unclear. Mark Kotsay said at the Winter Meetings that he hoped Kap would be good to go for Spring Training, although given that we have other options, don’t be surprised if the A’s take a conservative approach with his recovery.
Likely Bullpen arms
A.J. Puk – A’s GM David Forst stated at the start of the off-season that Puk would come to Spring Training camp as a potential starting pitcher. I would love to see it work out for Puk; however my hunch is that he’ll be our set-up man again this season.
Adam Oller – 2022 didn’t go well, so he may be better suited to a long-relief role. If not, he’s the type of player who will be Designated For Assignment to make space for younger talent on the 40-man roster.
The Next Generation
Ken Waldichuk and JP Sears – both showed promise at the end of last season and really have nothing left to prove at Triple-A level. Regardless of their Opening Day roster assignment, they’ll get plenty of starts in the Green and Gold in 2023.
Adrián Martínez – Although his 2022 didn’t go to plan, there were moments when his fastball and outstanding change-up made him look like an intriguing prospect. It’s worth giving him another go at Triple-A as a starting pitcher before considering switching him to be a potentially excellent reliever.
Kyle Muller and Freddy Tarnok – Both made their MLB debuts with the Braves last season and, like Waldichuk and Sears, will have made plenty of starts for the A’s by the end of the season.
Arbitration Deals Agreed
In other roster news, the A’s announced that they had agreed terms with Paul Blackburn, Tony Kemp and Ramón Laureano on contracts for 2023.
Blackburn ($1.9M salary for 2023) and Laureano ($3.55M) will both be hoping to have healthy and productive seasons to build on previous success, whilst Kemp ($3.725M) is in his final year before becoming a free agent.
As always, successful starts to the 2023 season for them will probably mean other teams will be paying part of that salary once we get to August and September.
Oakland goes 1-1 in funding agreements
Off the field, the Howard Terminal development plans have taken a blow with the provisional awards from the Federal MEGA grant program ruling that Oakland City Council’s bid for $182M was unsuccessful.
Whilst the naysayers are jumping on this as pushing the A’s one step closer to Vegas, the impact of the disappointing news shouldn’t be overstated. The City Council applied to that funding plot knowing they were extremely unlikely to get the full amount and that it was always possible they would get nothing giving how competitive the bidding process was.
In more positive news, the California Transportation Commission has approved $175 million of funding for the Port Of Oakland’s 7th Street Grade Separation Project, first announced back in December. The project obviously is much wider than just relating to Howard Terminal, but it’s part of the overall mission.
Spirit Week Announced
The A’s finally answered the question of whether they would be holding a FanFest this year by announcing a Spirit Week event.
It will begin on Monday January 23rd with various give-aways and ticket deals before culminating on Friday with an open ‘happy hour’ event.
Around the Majors
First – The Carlos Correa saga was brought to a close by the Minnesota Twins re-signing the shortstop to a contract that guarantees him 6-years, $200M and then has another four option years that could add $70M to it. Credit to the Twins for sticking with it after the provisional deals with the Giants and Mets gave them plenty of reasons to move on.
Second – Just after the Boston Red Sox’s 10-year, $313.5M contract extension with Rafael Devers somewhat appeased the Fenway Faithful, the despondency has built again after the news that Trevor Story has undergone elbow surgery that could put him out for the entire season. It only adds to the anger among Red Sox fans that the team signed Story to a six-year, $140M contract last off-season whilst offering low-ball contract extensions to Xander Bogaerts, who subsequently signed an 11-year, $280M contract with the Padres in December.
Third – There may be similar buyer’s remorse – albeit at a substantially lower financial level – for the New York Yankees when it comes to their mid-season trade with the A’s for Frankie Montas. He struggled down the stretch after being acquired at the trade deadline and the Yankees announced yesterday that Montas’s shoulder soreness has returned. He’s reportedly 8-10 weeks behind his off-season schedule and the fact that his shoulder has been a recurring problem makes this all the more concerning. It’s rough news for Frankie, although from the A’s perspective it shows that the Front Office did the right thing in getting a very solid prospect return for him and Lou Trivino when they did.
Home – And finally, fans of the similarly pathetically-owned Pittsburgh Pirates received a much-deserved bit of good news on Friday with the announcement that Andrew McCutchen has signed a one-year deal to return to the team. He reportedly turned down better financial offers from other teams as he wanted to go back to where his career began and to help their rebuild.