The Texas Rangers have again turned to Japan to address their pitching staff. On Saturday, the Rangers announced they have agreed to a two-year contract with Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters right-hander Kohei Arihara. The Fighters posted Arihara for MLB teams last month and his 30-day negotiating window closed Saturday.
"Hello everyone. I am extremely grateful for the Rangers who gave me an opportunity to play in Major League Baseball," Arihara said in a statement. "I will continue to work hard in order for me to grow and succeed in this city. To lead into this, I will make sure to have a good offseason so that I can head into Spring Training in top condition. I am truly excited to be able to pitch in front of the Rangers fans at Globe Life Field, and I hope that you will all support me in my journey. Thank you."
Arihara, 28, will make $2.6 million in 2021 and $3.6 million in 2022, reports MLB.com's T.R. Sullivan. The Rangers must also pay the Fighters a $1.24 million posting fee -- 20 percent of his $6.2 million contract -- so their total investment is $7.44 million. Arihara will be the eighth Japanese-born pitcher to play for Texas, joining Yu Darvish, Hideki Irabu, and Koji Uehara, among others.
In parts of six seasons with the Fighters, Arihara pitched to a 3.65 ERA while striking out 18.2 percent of batters faced. He had his best season in 2019, when he posted a 2.46 ERA with 161 strikeouts in 164 1/3 innings. Arihara was named Rookie of the Year in 2015, he's a two-time All-Star and he helped the Fighters win the 2016 Japan Series. Here are his last three seasons:
Arihara is a control pitcher with a deep arsenal rather than an overpowering power pitcher. He throws two and four-seam fastballs in the low-to-mid 90s, a slider and a curveball, a changeup and a splitter, and a cutter as well. The splitter is regarded as Arihara's best pitch, though has a reputation for throwing anything at any time.
Former major league reliever Frank Herrmann, who has spent the last four years as Arihara's opponent in Japan, provided David Laurila of FanGraphs with an updated scouting report on Arihara recently. Here's Herrmann:
"He's a big bodied pitcher with a slightly above average fastball," said Herrmann, who plays for the rival Chiba Lotte Marines. "Two years ago his split-finger was a plus pitch, but he didn't use it nearly as much last season when he featured an average changeup. He holds his velocity [92-95] well, even as he gets over the 100 pitch mark. He would benefit by pitching off his fastball more as he tends to get, unnecessarily, off-speed heavy at times. I think he projects as a 4/5 starter type that can give you innings and the occasional dominant start. I've just seen him be pretty inconsistent in my four years playing against him, as he tends to trade good months and bad months."
The knock on Arihara is that he lacks an obvious out pitch, a pitch like Darvish's slider or Masahiro Tanaka's splitter when they made the jump from Japan to MLB. The Rangers have had success helping pitchers get to another level through pitch selection tweaks the last few years, most notably with Lance Lynn, and they may have adjustments in mind for Arihara.
"The addition of Kohei Arihara strengthens the depth in our starting rotation," Rangers president of baseball operations Jon Daniels said in a statement. "He has had success in Japan over the last six years with a breakout season in 2019, and we believe there is more to come. The fact that he threw more than 130.0 innings in 2020 is a real plus considering the reduced workloads of our returning starters due to the 60-game season.
"Our pitching coaches are looking forward to working with Kohei as he prepares for the upcoming season," Daniels added. "We'd like to recognize and thank the Fighters for the great work they've done developing Kohei on and off the field."
The Rangers have emphasized youth this offseason. They traded away Lynn and closer Rafael Montero, added young hitters David Dahl and Nate Lowe, . Arihara will play most of next season at 28 and he's a low-cost, low-risk gamble with upside. Texas is paying middle reliever money for someone who could be a middle-to-back of the rotation starter.
The club's rotation depth chart currently looks something like this:
In addition to Japanese stars like Darvish and Uehara, the Rangers have also signed several American-born pitchers who struggled in the big leagues but found success in Japan. Colby Lewis and Chris Martin took that path and returned to MLB with Texas, as did Dominican lefty and current Rangers reliever Joely Rodriguez.
Arihara is one of several Asia players made available to MLB teams through the posting process this offseason. Japanese righty Tomoyuki Sugano and Korean shortstop Ha-Seong Kim are regarded as this winter's best available international players. Sugano's 30-day negotiating window closes Jan. 7. Kim's closes Jan. 1.