Will the Phillies consider Japanese pitcher Shōta Imanaga?

While all eyes are on Yoshinobu Yamamoto, another star Japanese pitcher being posted could be a solid addition to the Phillies rotation.

World Baseball Classic Championship: United States vs. Japan
World Baseball Classic Championship: United States vs. Japan / Eric Espada/GettyImages
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With Aaron Nola back in the fold on a seven-year, $172 million deal, Philadelphia Phillies President of Baseball Operations Dave Dombrowski indicated that the team’s rotation is set for 2024. 

When speaking with reporters in the press conference to officially announce Nola's deal, he said: "We have five starters that we like. I think when you look at some of the statistical models, we had the best WAR with our group of any team in Major League Baseball, so we like our five starters, and we look like we're set."

Don't be surprised if that sentiment is rolled back in the coming weeks, though. 

Even with Nola returning and Zack Wheeler, Ranger Suárez, Taijuan Walker, and Cristopher Sánchez joining him, the Phillies have been linked to Japanese pitcher Yoshinobu Yamamoto, one of the top available pitchers on the market, according to Alex Coffey of The Philadelphia Inquirer

Now, another Japanese pitcher might be in play for the Phillies — Shōta Imanaga, who could be posted as early as this weekend. Once that happens, clubs will have 45 days to try to negotiate a deal with the pitcher. 

Mark Feinsand of MLB.com reported that while Yamamoto is expected to land a deal near $200 million, Imanaga's contract could fall in the range of five years, $75 million. 

The 30-year-old has been stellar during his eight seasons in Nippon Professional Baseball.

He has a 64-50 record, 3.18 ERA, 13 complete games, seven shutouts, 1,021 strikeouts, and 280 walks in 1,002 2/3 innings. In 2023, Imanaga put up a 2.80 ERA and 1.054 WHIP with 174 punchouts and only 24 walks in 148 innings with the Yokohama DeNA BayStars. He led all of NPB in strikeouts, beating out Yamamoto's 169 punchouts.

In 2023, the left-hander also had an impressive 7.25 strikeout-to-walk ratio.

For comparison, that mark would've ranked third among all qualified MLB pitchers last season, behind only George Kirby of the Seattle Mariners (9.05) and Zach Eflin of the Tampa Bay Rays (7.75). Phillies ace Zack Wheeler finished fourth in the league (5.44). And his miniscule 1.5 walks per nine innings would've placed fourth in MLB in 2023.

Imanaga was part of Japan's 2023 World Baseball Classic team that beat Team USA to secure the title, and he was credited with the game win after starting things off for Japan.

Looking at his performances in the WBC, David Adler of MLB.com relayed some of Imanaga's average pitch speeds during the tournament: fastball (94.4 mph), splitter (84.1 mph), slider (82.8 mph) and curveball (73.1 mph).

The Phillies, who scouted Imanaga during the season, asked a lot of their starters in 2023.

The group posted the third-most innings at 899 with a league-best 17.7 WAR, according to FanGraphs, but their 4.30 ERA was a middling 15th in the league. In the postseason, however? The starters had the best ERA of all 12 playoff teams at 2.19 and gave up the fewest walks per nine innings at 1.16.

Still, is there such a thing as too much quality pitching — especially when discussing a lefty who has command of the strike zone and an above-average splitter?

Imanaga has been mostly excellent since entering the NPB in 2016. While he did have season-ending shoulder surgery in 2020, he picked up right where he left off when he returned to the diamond, logging at least 150 innings across all leagues the past two seasons.

Assuming Yamamoto is too far out of the team's budget — considering the Phillies will likely need to address the bullpen and outfield at some point in free agency and would also need to account for release fees that need to be paid for either Japanese pitcher — the organization can look at Imanaga as a solid addition to the rotation if Dombrowski decides to backpedal and go after more starting pitching.

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