Left-hander Kazuto Taguchi re-signed with the Tokyo Yakult Swallows on a three-year contract worth 550 million yen (roughly $3.89MM), according to Sanspo News and other Japanese outlets. The 28-year-old closer also expressed an interest in eventually pursuing a move to Major League Baseball, which could happen as early as next offseason. Taguchi is a season away from reaching the full nine years of NPB service time required to be a full free agent without a posting fee involved, and his comments suggest that his deal with the Swallows might contain an out clause in such a circumstance.
Taguchi has a 3.36 ERA over 825 career innings in Nippon Professional Baseball, pitching with the Yomiuri Giants from 2014-20 until a trade to the Swallows prior to the start of the 2021 season. A rough 2018 campaign moved Taguchi from the rotation to the bullpen, and his work as a reliever has become increasingly impressive. Taguchi posted a 1.25 ERA over 36 innings for the Swallows as a setup man in 2022, and then a 1.86 ERA over 48 1/3 innings as the team’s closer last season. His work helped the Swallows to back-to-back pennants in 2021-22, and the Japan Series crown in 2021.
At only 5’7″ and 165 pounds, Taguchi isn’t exactly an imposing figure on the mound, and some Major League scouts might inevitably have concerns over his durability. That said, working out of the bullpen should help Taguchi stay healthy, and becoming a reliever seems to have unlocked a new level of performance. Taguchi has always had solid control as both a starter or a reliever, and his 28.5% strikeout rate in 2023 marked a new career high. Home runs also used to be a slight concern for Taguchi earlier in his career, yet he has allowed just two big flies since the start of the 2022 season.
Yuki Matsui just signed a five-year, $28MM deal with the Padres less than two weeks ago, and beyond being just a month younger than Taguchi, Matsui is also a rather diminutive left-handed reliever. However, Matsui has a much longer track record as a closer and is coming to MLB in advance of his age-28 season, whereas Taguchi would be coming to the Show prior to his age-29 season.
Perhaps a two-year pact might be a more realistic target for Taguchi at this point than Matsui’s deal (which is also somewhat unusually structured, with two opt-out clauses and an “injury clause”). Given the variance involved in relief pitching, projecting contracts even for established Major League…