Ryota Igarashi Nears Deal with Mets: Who Is He, Anyway?

Mickey LambertContributor IDecember 16, 2009

NEW YORK - MAY 08:  Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations & General Manager Omar Minaya of the New York Mets looks on before playing the Pittsburgh Pirates on May 8, 2009 at Citi Field in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

As is the usual during this point of the offseason, Mets fans are getting antsy. 

In the last 72 hours, they've watched their biggest NL East foe complete a blockbuster trade for a Cy Young winner and seen one of the top prizes of the 2010 free agent class become the latest weapon in the Red Sox pitching arsenal.

Meanwhile, the Mets' top brass seems to be busy competing with themselves for the services of Bengie Molina.

While these developments strike fear in the heart of any reasonable Mets die-hard, it's still a good idea to pause and take a deep breath before panning any deal in which the Mets might be rumored to be involved.

Take today's report that the Mets are close to a deal with Japanese pitcher Ryota Igarashi. 

Many in the Mets' fanbase will see his name and say, "Who the hell is he? What about Jason Bay and Matt Holliday?"

Before casting him out of consideration, though, let's take a look at him and see whether he might be a smart addition to the Mets' ailing bullpen.


Ryota Igarashi: Profile

Igarashi is a 30-year-old righty reliever who has most recently pitched for the Yakult Swallows of the Nippon Professional Baseball league. Last season, he notched a 3-2 record and an ERA of 3.19 in 53.2 innings for the Swallows. 

Aside from a 37-save season as the Swallows' closer in 2004, he has primarily served as a fireballing setup man behind closers like former Mets hurler Shingo Takatsu.

This season's campaign continued his comeback from Tommy John surgery to repair his ulnar collateral ligament, the injury that forced him to miss the entire 2007 season. 

Upon returning from his injury rehab in summer 2008, he displayed markedly improved control, sporting a 42:6 K/BB ratio on the season.

Control has been an issue for him, as he has hovered around three walks per nine innings pitched. However, his wildness is balanced by his power pitching, with almost seven strikeouts per nine innings pitched over the course of his career.

Igarashi is a hard thrower who has been most effective in combining a funky delivery, overpowering high fastball, and deceptive splitter.

While rumors have circulated that he is looking to close for an MLB team, the Mets clearly see him serving in a setup role in front of Francisco Rodriguez.


Value and Outlook

NPB Tracker quotes Sponichi Annex in projecting the offers extended to Igarashi as being in the neighborhood of two years and $3 million.

The Mets are not Igarashi's only suitors—the Padres, Orioles, Red Sox, and Diamondbacks have all been reported as having indicated interest—but at this stage, they appear to be the most likely to ink him to a deal.

This contradicts reports from earlier today stating that the Red Sox were leading the chase. While this does little to ease the sting of Boston's luring away of John Lackey, the Mets are making a strong value move if they can sign Igarashi. 

He has a fastball that regularly sits in the upper 90s, as well as a strong out pitch in his splitter. His career K/BB ratio is encouraging, even accounting for a likely decrease in his strikeout numbers in jumping to MLB.

While he may run into some walk trouble if hitters can lay off his high fastball, he can still use it to set up the splitter.

Mets fans may be justifiably gun-shy about Japanese player signings after the Kaz Matsui and Tsuyoshi Shinjo busts, but this is a low-risk, high-reward move that deserves attention. 

Not every offseason move can be a blockbuster. While this move is nowhere near the importance level of landing a power bat or divining a workable solution to the first base conundrum, it should not be mocked in and of itself.

$1.5 million per year for a fireballer in the eighth inning? It's no lock, but it's a risk I'm more than willing to endorse.