Koji Uehara Is Not THE Answer in Baltimore, But He Certainly Helps

Drew BonifantAnalyst IIJanuary 7, 2009

According to MLB.com, the Orioles have acquired Japanese star pitcher Koji Uehara, reportedly for two years.

This move helps the Birds, but before we start crediting him with 15 wins for 2009, a few things should be pointed out.

Uehara, at 34 years old, is hardly up-and-coming. Baltimore is in desperate need for rotation help (e.g. the cliched "warm bodies"), and Uehara has been seeing his innings decline over recent years (187.3 to 168.3 to 62 last year) as he has transitioned to becoming a reliever.

His style doesn't fit well with Camden Yards either. As ESPN's Keith Law blogged, Uehara is an upper-strike-zone pitcher, who will be challenged by Oriole Park's bandbox dimensions.

He did win the Sawamura Award, Nippon's equivalent to the Cy Young Award. The problem is, the years he won it (1999 and 2002) were back in the thick of the steroid era. In other words, not recent.

Despite those words of caution, however, there are plenty of reasons for Orioles fans to be happy with the most recent move by Andy MacPhail.

For one, Uehara brings a welcome transition from the wildness most notably and frustratingly displayed by Daniel Cabrera, Radhames Liz, and Garrett Olson. Uehara paints the corners, hits his spots, and should consistently occupy a rotation slot while using it to do something besides walk six men a game.

Uehara's signing also signals the beginning of a new method for acquiring talent. With teams like the Yankees, Mets, and (most years) Red Sox often having their way in the free-agency market, teams like the Orioles have to look elsewhere for less in-demand players.

That thinking just got them Koji Uehara. It may also bring them two-time Sawamura recipient Kenshin Kawakami, as Baltimore looks to patch the rotation while allowing their prospects to develop in the minors.

Good scouting can make up for a thin wallet. You just have to know where to look, and judging by the acquisition of the first Japanese player in organization history, Baltimore's starting to widen its targeted areas.

Uehara's not a gem, but considering the bare Orioles' pitching rotation, he's a start. And if he helps the Orioles get their feet into different international doors, it can be the start of something bigger.