The last time Tomoyuki Sugano faced big league hitters, he left a three-time Manager of the Year suitably impressed.
Sugano started Japan's semifinal matchup vs. Team USA in the 2017 World Baseball Classic. The Americans were managed by Jim Leyland, and after Sugano shut them down for six innings in Japan's 2-1 loss, Leyland tipped his cap.
"The starting pitcher for Japan, he's a big league pitcher," Leyland said. "He's good. I mean, I was really impressed with him. I can't tell you how impressed I was with their pitcher. I thought he was really good. Located on the ball on the outside corners, fastball. Threw 3-0 sliders. That's pretty impressive."
Sugano may soon be coming to a ballpark near you. The Yomiuri Giants posted the 31-year-old right-hander on Tuesday morning, and the Red Sox -- per Sean McAdam of Boston Sports Journal -- plan to pursue him aggressively.
A two-time winner of Japan's Cy Young Award in Nippon Professional Baseball, Sugano is 6-foot-1 with a low-90s fastball, outstanding slider, and elite spin rates. Scouts consider him a full tier below NL Cy Young winner Trevor Bauer on the free agent market, and the best pitcher to come out of Japan since the Yankees signed Masahiro Tanaka in 2014. He projects as a fourth starter in the big leagues.
Teams have until Jan. 7 at 5 p.m. to agree to a deal, with the total value of his contract determining the posting fee paid to Yomiuri. Unlike Tanaka, who arrived in the U.S. for a flat $20 million fee, Sugano will cost the signing club the following, per MLB.com: 20 percent of his first $25 million in guaranteed salary, 17.5 percent of the next $25 million, and 15 percent of anything beyond $50 million.
He's expected to command a modest deal, with ESPN projecting him at two years and $24 million, though it's worth noting that pitchers have fared slightly better in free agency than anticipated. If Sugano signs for $24 million, his new team would owe Yomiuri a $4.8 million posting fee.
So what kind of pitcher might the Red Sox receive if they're able to land him? Sugano is 101-50 with a 2.34 ERA in eight seasons in Japan. His control is considered exceptional -- just 1.8 walks per nine innings lifetime -- and he's more crafty than overpowering. The U.S. got to see his full arsenal during the WBC, when he struck out six while allowing an unearned run over six economical innings requiring only 81 pitches.
Sugano is considered a notch below the highest-profile Japanese pitchers to come to the U.S., whether it's Hideo Nomo, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Yu Darvish, or Tanaka. A better comp might be Hiroki Kuroda, who joined the Dodgers at age 33 in 2008 and then carved an effective seven-year career with the Dodgers and Yankees, winning 79 games as a mid-rotation starter.
If the Red Sox want Sugano, they're going to have competition. The Yankees, Angels, Giants, Blue Jays, Mets, and Mariners are just some of the teams expected to express interest.