4 alternative free agent targets for the Phillies with Sonny Gray off the market

WBC Team Japan starting pitcher Shōta Imanaga
WBC Team Japan starting pitcher Shōta Imanaga / Eric Espada/GettyImages
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Shōta Imanaga

Shōta Imanaga, Japan’s second best pitching offering posted to MLB this offseason, has been overshadowed in free agent conversations by his younger countryman and Samurai Japan teammate Yoshinobu Yamamoto, who would be the hottest commodity on the market if it weren’t for Shohei Ohtani. While Yamamoto’s numbers do simply stand out more than Imanaga’s, part of the imbalance in the conversation could have to do with their difference in age; Yamamoto is 25 and Imanaga is 30, and Imanaga has dealt with major surgeries in the recent past, one of which was season-ending in 2020.

Still, Imanaga beat Yamamoto to become NPB’s strikeout king in 2023, 174 to 169, for a strikeout rate of almost 30%. He also had a walk rate of only 4% and has been able to give the Yokohama BayStars over 150 innings every year for the last three years despite his injuries. Imanaga, like the 34 year old Sonny Gray, could be a No. 3 starter for the Phillies, one who could come with a much smaller price tag than Yamamoto while still being able to provide experience and high quality starts.

MLB Trade Rumors predicts Imanaga will earn $85 million over five years, which would also make him less expensive than Gray. But we've already established that money seems to be no object to the Phillies — if it was, it’s likely they would’ve let Aaron Nola go to clear up some of their payroll — who have forked over millions of extra dollars for exceeding luxury tax limits over the past few years. The competition for Imanaga looks less fierce than most other A- or B-tier starting pitchers in free agency, he's younger than Sonny Gray, and he could come cheaper, so the Phillies should keep a close eye on his market.