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Reports: Cubs make a splash in free agency in move to bolster rotation

2 months agoTony Andracki

It took a while into the offseason before the Cubs made a move that impacted the big-league roster, but Jed Hoyer and Co. made a splash Tuesday evening.

According to reports (including USA TODAY’s Bob Nightengale), the Cubs reached an agreement with Japanese southpaw Shōta Imanaga:

Imanaga, 30, is a high-profile signing who was seen as the second-best arm coming to the U.S. from Japan this winter, behind Yoshinobu Yamamoto. MLB Trade Rumors ranked Imanaga as the No. 10 free agent this offseason and projected a 5-year, $85 million contract. MLBTR ranked Imanaga ahead of Eduardo Rodriguez (who inked a 4-year, $80 million deal with the Arizona Diamondbacks) and Marcus Stroman (18th on the free agent rankings).

Imanaga has enjoyed a stellar 8-year career in Japan, going 64-50 with a 3.18 ERA in 165 outings.

He has averaged more than a strikeout per inning in his career, which included his best season in 2023 when he whiffed 174 batters in 148 innings (10.6 K/9). He actually had more strikeouts than Yamamoto (169) for the Nippon Professional Baseball lead.

Bruce Levine provided a scouting report on Imanaga on the latest Cubs Weekly Podcast:

“[He] strikes out more than 1 per inning — quite a bit more last year,” Levine said. “Not in the conventional sense of blowing people away with his fastball. But he has a 73 mph curveball, he has an 82 mph splitter, he has a great changeup. He uses his fastball as a changeup. That’s not his go-to pitch. It’s more of, you can wait for the fastball and it’s 91, 92 [mph] tops. But it’s gonna be a rising fastball mostly out of the zone.

“This is a guy that’s a complete pitcher, has pitched very well in Japan and I think would fit in perfectly with the Cubs.”

Imanaga also sported the lowest ERAs of his career over the last 2 seasons (2.66 in 2023, 2.04 in 2022). He pitched for Team Japan in the World Baseball Classic last spring and started in the final game against the U.S., allowing a run in 2 innings. 

The Cubs already have Cy Young candidate Justin Steele atop their rotation with veteran right-handers Kyle Hendricks and Jameson Taillon following. Imanaga can slot in alongside that trio and let Drew Smyly, Jordan Wicks, Javier Assad, Hayden Wesneski and others compete for the final rotation spot (or utilize a 6-man rotation at points).

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