Red Sox May Close Door On Koji Uehara
Judging by the end of the regular season and much of this postseason, starting pitching isn’t everything.
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After the Toronto Blue Jays made a huge splash by trading for ace David Price, they closed out their series on the backs of three of their younger pitchers, including 23-year-old Aaron Sanchez who set up the game for 20-year-old Roberto Osuna in the ninth inning. Last night, the Los Angeles Dodgers had Zack Greinke pitch into the sixth inning and he gave up the solo home run, before 26-year-old Jeurys Familia pitched the final two innings to seal the deal for the New York Mets in the final game of their division series.
The Boston Red Sox must have been watching closely, or even perceived the future, as two days ago Jason Mastrodonato of The Boston Herald tweeted the following:
The 29-year-old Junichi Tazawa and the 40-year-old Koji Uehara may have an 11-year difference, but if it wasn’t for the fractured wrist then Koji would seem more of a spry youngster compared to his set-up man.
Tazawa had his chance to succeed Koji this season, yet tripped over the mark and limped down the stretch. He posted a 2-7 record, a 4.14 ERA, and a .280 opposing batting average in 58.2 innings of work. The fellow Japanese reliever paled in comparison to Uehara by going 3-for-10 in save opportunities.
Remember Koji leaping into the arms of the undisputed leader of the Red Sox David Ortiz during their World Series run in 2013? Koji looked like a kid who found out that his birthday presents were stockpiled in a candy shop, where everything was free just for him, in the Walt Disney World Resort’s Magic Kingdom. That same Koji was mopping the floor with opposing teams this season, posting a 2.23 ERA, allowing only 10 runs while striking out 47 hitters in 40.1 innings. He had 25 saves in 27 opportunities, and he did it with an extremely impressive .188 opposing batting average.
Sep 11, 2015; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; Boston Red Sox relief pitcher Junichi Tazawa (36) reacts as he gives up a 2-run home run during the eighth inning against the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field. Tampa Bay Rays defeated the Boston Red Sox 8-4. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Even by looking at only the Pre All-Star Break statistics, Koji dominated. According to MLB.com, Uehara was only seven saves behind the leader Mark Melancon, who plays for the Pittsburgh Pirates. The Red Sox had 20 less wins than the Pirates, a team that made it to the postseason in one of the toughest divisions in baseball. Koji was able to perform at a high level, being 12th in the majors for saves on a team that could barely scratch two wins together.
Again, if it wasn’t for the injury, who knows how many more wins Koji would have picked up? At least a few more than Tazawa’s losses, most likely.
Tazawa was signed through the end of this season, with arbitration in 2016 and free agency in 2017. Koji is signed through 2016. So, it’s interesting that Red Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski would publicly set the table that Tazawa is a keeper while Koji may not be. Yes, he’s old, recovering from injury, and costing the Red Sox more money for another season; however, Koji’s worth is still greater than Tazawa’s in terms of on the mound. It’s possible that Koji would be shopped for a team to make a run next year, as long as his arm comes back with him. Don’t hold your breath of that happening before spring training starts, unless a team is that desperate to start the run immediately.
If anything, Tazawa’s status with the team should be in as much question as Koji’s.
The Blue Jays won their first World Series with set-up man Duane Ward holding the fort for one or two innings before Tom Henke took over in the ninth. The set-up man seems to be trending in this postseason, at least for the Blue Jays with Sanchez and Osuna. A similar youth movement in the bullpen could be a great option for the Red Sox, either from within the organization or from a trade. Just remember something: 29 may be younger than 40, but quality pitching at 20 and 23 looks much more attractive. Tazawa’s time to peak at his potential has come and gone. Whatever remains is what he’s capable of doing on the hill. Judging by this season, even if he was to improve on his results they wouldn’t be as attractive.
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