Orioles might pursue Japanese pitcher Naoyuki Uwasawa; Bautista closes strong awards season - BaltimoreBaseball.com
Rich Dubroff

Orioles might pursue Japanese pitcher Naoyuki Uwasawa; Bautista closes strong awards season

Naoyuki Uwasawa
Photo credit: AP Photo/Toru Takahashi

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The Orioles aren’t going to be bidding for superstar Shohei Ohtani, and they most likely aren’t going after another coveted free agent, Japanese pitcher Yoshinobu Yamamoto.

Yamamoto is projected to command a nine-year, $225 million contract, and that’s going to be out of the Orioles’ price range.

However, Japanese media reports that the Orioles might be interested in Naoyuki Uwasawa, a right-hander who’s long pitched for the Nippon Ham Fighters.

Uwasawa, who turns 30 in February, wasn’t listed among the top 50 free agents in MLBTradeRumors.com’s list. He was posted this week by the Ham Fighters, and he has until January 11th to sign with a major league team, which must surrender a fee to Nippon in addition to Uwasawa.

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In 2023, Uwasawa was 9-9 with a 2.96 earned-run average in 24 games, including two complete games. In 170 innings, he struck out 124 batters and walked 41.

According to reports, Uwasawa’s fastball measured at 90.8 mph in 2023, much slower than the major league average.

The Orioles haven’t signed a Japanese player in the five years that Mike Elias has run the baseball operations department. They did acquire right-hander Shintaro Fujinami from Oakland in July.

Fujinami was 2-0 with a 4.85 ERA and two saves in 30 games with the Orioles. He was 5-8 with an 8.57 ERA in 34 games with the Athletics. He started seven times with a 14.26 ERA, but after coming to Baltimore, he expressed the hope that his future would be as a starter.

He struck out 32 and walked 15 in 29 2/3 innings, was not included on the Division Series roster, and is now a free agent.

The Orioles’ first Japanese pitcher was Koji Uehara, who signed with the Orioles in 2009. Uehara was 2-4 with a 4.05 ERA in 12 starts. In 2010, the Orioles decided to convert him into a reliever. Uehara had better success in the bullpen, with a 1-2 record and 2.86 ERA and 13 saves in 43 games.

He was even better the next season with 1-1 record and 1.72 ERA as a setup man before he was dealt to the Texas Rangers at the trade deadline for Chris Davis and Tommy Hunter.

It was a trade that worked out well for both teams. Uehara was with the Rangers for their postseason run, continued pitching well for Texas in 2012, and had a spectacular run in Boston after he signed with the Red Sox as a free agent.

Uehara was 14-13 with a 2.19 ERA and 79 saves in four seasons and was an American League All-Star and a World Series winner in 2014.

He concluded his career at 42 with the Chicago Cubs in 2017.

The only Japanese player signed during the Dan Duquette era, Tsuyoshi Wada, didn’t work out as well.

Shortly after Duquette was hired in late 2011, the Japanese left-hander signed a two-year contract with the Orioles. He had Tommy John surgery in May 2012 and after he started 19 times for Triple-A Norfolk in 2013 with a 4.03 ERA, he left the organization without having pitched for the Orioles.

Fortunately for Duquette, not long after he signed Wada he added a less heralded Taiwanese left-hander, Wei-Yin Chen, who had four successful seasons with the Orioles.

Wada pitched for the Cubs in 2014 and 2015 before returning to Japan, where he pitched until 2022 when he was 42.

Recapping Orioles awards: Félix Bautista’s unanimous win as the American League’s Reliever of the Year capped off a tremendous award season for the Orioles.

Gunnar Henderson was also a unanimous choice for American League Rookie of the Year, the first time an Oriole won that since 1989.

Henderson was also named the outstanding American League rookie by The Sporting News and won the Players Choice award. He also captured the Sliver Slugger award for best AL utility player.

Adley Rutschman won a Silver Slugger for best hitting catcher in the league. Rutschman, first baseman Ryan Mountcastle and leftfielder Austin Hays were finalists for Gold Glove awards but didn’t win.

Brandon Hyde was the overwhelming winner of the American League Manager of the Year, capturing 27 of 30 first-place votes, the biggest landslide since 2008. Hyde also won The Sporting News Manager of the Year award.

Mike Elias won awards from The Sporting News and Major League Baseball for top executive.

While the Orioles still haven’t had a Cy Young Award winner since 1980 and a Most Valuable Player since 1991, Kyle Bradish finished fourth in the Cy Young voting, and  Henderson and Rutschman finished eighth and ninth for MVP.

Ryan O’Hearn received votes for American League Comeback Player of the Year, which was won by Chicago White Sox reliever Liam Hendriks.

Award season concludes on Thursday when Shohei Ohtani is expected to win his third consecutive Edgar Martinez Outstanding Designated Hitter Award.

Rutschman and Anthony Santander are also on the ballot.

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