After spending the better part of a decade with Red Sox's organization, Junichi Tazawa became a free agent following an up-and-down 2016 season. The 30-year-old veteran finished the year with a 4.17 ERA and 4.23 FIP in 42.1 innings. On the bright side, Tazawa was able to increase his strikeout production in 2016, as his K/9 climbed from 8.6 in 2015 to 9.7 in 2016. However, his susceptibility to giving up home runs spiked as well, which was evidenced by a 1.6 HR/9, his highest since 2011. Now entering his thirties, Tazawa is unlikely to develop into anything more than what he has shown with Boston the past few years, but the Marlins inked him to a two-year deal to shore up their bridge to the ninth inning during the offseason.
Tazawa will work on lowering his arm angle this spring, The Sun-Sentinel reports. "He's navigating through," pitching coach Juan Nieves said. "I think there's a little bit of work to be done, but I think with the youth here, he's a great complement for us. He could be used in a shorter role, less stressful innings." Nieves was Tazawa's pitching coach in Boston in 2013-14, the reliever's best seasons in the majors, and he feels that Tazawa's arm angle has gotten too high over the last couple of years. More concerning for his fantasy value is the suggestion that he is only fourth of fifth in the bullpen pecking order for the Marlins, and won't see many high-leverage situations behind A.J. Ramos, Brad Ziegler and Kyle Barraclough. Tazawa has recorded at least 16 holds in each of the last four seasons, but could have a tough time keeping that streak alive in a lesser role for Miami.
Tazawa signed a two-year, $12 million contract with the Marlins on Thursday, Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports reports. After seven seasons in Boston, Tazawa is headed to Miami to help shore up the back-end of the Marlins' bullpen. The right-hander posted ERAs north of 4.00 in his final two seasons with the Red Sox and had some major home run issues in 2016, but Tazawa managed a 26 percent strikeout rate and has a track record of effectiveness against both left- and right-handed hitters. He should easily get to double-digit holds again while helping to set up for closer A.J. Ramos.
Tazawa entered Sunday's game with Boston trailing, 8-1, in the sixth inning and gave up two runs on three hits in a 10-5 loss to the Tigers. It's odd to see Tazawa, who has been an eighth-inning staple since 2013, pitching in such a low-leverage situation, but his performance of late has removed him from the higher leverage spots. Manager John Farrell said as much after Tazawa's outing last Tuesday, after the reliever allowed three runs without getting an out. The manager told Tim Britton of the Providence Journal that Tazawa is behind others in the bullpen for high-leverage spots.
Tazawa entered Thursday's game in the eighth inning and allowed three runs on three hits while not registering an out in Wednesday's 4-3 loss to the Tigers. It was another crushing loss for the Red Sox, who were looking to steal the afternoon game after getting into Detroit at 4:00 AM. A combination of Tazawa and Brad Ziegler gave up a 3-1 lead and leaves manager John Farrell few options when navigating the late innings. Matt Barnes was not available, so it down to Tazawa or Ziegler -- neither player with a good history against the hitters due up. This may be the motivation the team needs to make an offer that free agent Jonathan Papelbon ca't refuse. Meanwhile, just two weeks ago, the Red Sox were touting Tazawa has a late-inning staple after a five-game scoreless streak, but his fortunes have turned. Thursday's performance was the third in the last four games in which he's allowed runs. The once reliable setup man is carrying the baggage of a 4.62 ERA and appears to have tired for a third straight season.
Tazawa will remain an important late-inning reliever even as the Red Sox reshaped the bullpen over the last month, Tim Britton of the Providence Journal reports. Since coming off the disabled list, Tazawa as fired four scoreless innings and he's ready to be used in back-to-back games if needed. Most recently, he recorded a key out in Monday night's win when he struck out Nelson Cruz. His ability to pitch against both right-handers and left-handers makes him a useful part of the pen.