Tomoyuki Sugano is a two-time Sawamura Award winner (Japan's Cy Young equivalent), a former league MVP in Japan's Nippon Profession Baseball and has been the ace of the Yomiuri Giants for years.
The question now is, should the Giants bring him to San Francisco this offseason?
On Friday, the Japan Times reported Sugano has asked Yomiuri to make him available to MLB teams via the posting system. Yomiuri has previously said they would allow Sugano to negotiate with major league teams this offseason as well. Posted players have a 30-day window to sign with a major league team or return to their Japanese team.
Sugano turned 31 years old last October. He's coming off a season in which he led the NPB in wins with 14 and had a 1.97 ERA. The right-hander tossed 137 1/3 innings, had a 0.88 WHIP and struck out 8.6 batters per nine innings. He has a 101-49 career record with a 2.32 ERA over eight seasons as a pro.
While his strikeout numbers don't jump off the page, Sugano's calling card is his extremely impressive command of the strike zone. This past season, he walked only 25 batters and has 1.8 walks per nine innings for his career. He also is known to have a strong fastball, slider and other breaking balls.
"(His) slider is perhaps the best in Japan and he can control it to both sides of the plate," Jason Coskrey of the Japan Times wrote for Baseball America earlier this month. "It's a devastating offering when he buries it inside against lefthanded hitters. Sugano's velocity was slightly up in 2020 and he also induced more swinging strikes. He upped his splitter usage and also threw a cutter, curveball and shuuto.
"His control was as strong as ever."
For reference, a shuuto essentially is a two-seam fastball. Coskrey also called Sugano a "big-game pitcher."
The Giants certainly could use that. Johnny Cueto is entering the final year on his contract -- he does have a 2022 team option -- and he wasn't exactly an ace last season. Kevin Gausman is back after signing the qualifying offer, and while the Giants would like him to stay beyond 2021, nothing is guaranteed. The Giants have holes in their rotation for next year, and their top pitching prospects, Seth Corry and Kyle Harrison, aren't ready to contribute right now.
Farhan Zaidi and Scott Harris have acknowledged the Giants' need rotation help, and they have been linked to veterans like Jake Odorizzi and Jon Lester. Sugano feels like an instant upgrade over those two and many others on the open market. Two talent evaluators told the New York Post's Joel Sherman that Sugano projects as a "strong No. 3-type starter in the majors."
Strolling out a top three of Gausman, Cueto and Sugano in any order would compete with many contenders. This rotation still needs work, notably a left-handed pitcher, but Sugano would give the Giants a capable veteran for the present and the future. He wouldn't be a one-year rental. Giving him a three-year contract seems doable where his age 31, 32 and 33 seasons would be in San Francisco.
Sugano also has proved in the past he can compete against some of the best bats in the majors. He held Team USA to one run in six innings in the 2017 World Baseball Classic at Dodger Stadium.
"Tonight, the starting pitcher for Japan, he's a big league pitcher," Team USA manager Jim Leyland said to MLB.com's Joe Trezza after the game. "He's good. I mean, I was really impressed with him.
"I can't tell you, for me, tonight, how impressed I was with their pitcher. I mean, I thought he was really good. Located on the ball on the outside corners, fastball. Threw 3-0 sliders. That's pretty impressive."
Sugano has done it on the biggest stage in Japan for the league's most popular team. He has earned the respect of one of the greatest managers in MLB history. It all comes down to dollars and cents, but there's no reason Zaidi and Harris shouldn't try and keep Sugano a Giant.
Just now in San Francisco instead of Tokyo.