Red Sox greatest relief pitcher bargains in franchise history
#3) Junichi Tazawa
The Contract: Junichi Tazawa came over from Japan to join the Red Sox in 2009 and thus was obligated to play in Boston until he achieved six years of service time after the 2016 season. Overall he earned $10.59 million between 2009 and 2016. (contract data via Baseball reference)
Tazawa came over from Japan at the young age of 23 and thus he began his career in the minor leagues. He did very well in AA and AAA in 2009 and came into 2010 with considerable buzz. Unfortunately, Tazawa underwent Tommy John surgery in April 2010. He wouldn’t fully find his footing until 2012, but that year – in a season full of disappointments – Tazawa was utterly dominant. While the Bobby V circus was in full effect, all Tazawa did was post a 1.43 ERA while striking out nine batters for each walk he issued.
In 2013, he continued to be a star-level relief pitcher but luckily this time his performance was not squandered. He tied for seventh in the American League for holds with 25 while striking out six batters for each walk and anchoring the setup man spot for the eventual World Series Champion Red Sox.
The Red Sox never returned to the pinnacle during his tenure but he remained a productive reliever through the end of his rookie contract in 2017. In this millennium, Tazawa ranks fourth among Red Sox relievers in career fWAR, all of which was attained while on his rookie contract. It’s safe to say he overperformed the $10.59 million he was paid.