The Orioles made their first splash into the Asian market back in 2009, when they signed right-hander Koji Uehara. The gamble on Uehara didn't make an immediate impact for the Orioles (he made only 12 starts before succumbing to a season-ending injury), but he did put together a fine one-and-a-half year run in the Orioles bullpen before departing for Texas late last season.
The O's, under the new direction of Dan Duquette, recently made their second major move, acquiring the services of fellow Japanese left-hander Tsuyoshi Wada. The team signed him to a two-year deal worth $8.15 million with a 2014 option worth another $5 million.
For those of you who aren't familiar with Wada, and let's be honest, who outside of the Ring of Fire follows Japanese baseball, here's little background.
The now 31-year-old Wada was a record-breaking college pitcher at the prestigious Waseda University, earning the nickname "Dr. K" before ascending to the Nippon Professional Baseball League in 2002. He earned a spot in the Fukuoka Daiei Hawks rotation and started immediately. He finished his debut season with a 14-5 record and won Rookie of the Year honors in the Pacific League. He also finished a close second to Daisuke Matsuzaka in strikeouts.
He suffered a bit of a sophomore slump in 2004, but still finished with the best batting average against in the PCL.
From 2005 to 2009 he was more-or-less inconsistent. He struggled with some minor injuries, but put together solid campaigns when healthy. His two best seasons have come during the past two years. He went 17-8 with a 3.14 ERA in 2010, and followed that up with a 16-5 record and a 1.53 ERA in 2011.
Internationally, Wada has been one of Japan's best pitchers. He beat Canada twice in the 2004 Olympics, including once in the bronze-medal game. He didn't allow a single run in the 2006 World Baseball Classic.
Despite his nickname, Wada isn't a fire-baller. Like Uehara, he throws in the 88-92 mph range, rarely touching 93. He makes his mark, however, off of pinpoint control. His command of his fastball is sensational, and he complements the pitch with three other secondary pitches, of which he also has great control.
The O's announced the signing of Wada as a starter, so like Uehara they intend to insert him immediately into the rotation, giving the team another veteran starter alongside staff ace Jeremy Guthrie. That should allow the "Baby Birds" (Zach Britton, Brian Matusz, Jake Arrieta) to fall in line behind them, putting less pressure on the youngsters.
The signing of Wada, coupled with the pursuit of Taiwanese pitcher Chen Wei-Yin and Korean pitcher Chong Tae-Hyon has no doubt strengthened the Orioles presence in the Far East, making them one of the biggest spenders in the area so far this year.
Developing an Orioles presence in the emerging baseball markets of the world was a sticking point in Duquette's agreement to join the Orioles, and so far it looks like he's making good on his early promises.
For those of you holding out hope that they will somehow be players in the emerging market for Japanese ace Yu Darvish, however, don't hold your breath. The Orioles aren't currently good enough to justify sinking $100 million into a pitcher who has yet to throw a pitch on American soil.
For now, they'll continue to make their mark and their presence felt with smaller, less expensive moves like Wada, hopefully leading to a steady pipeline of talent.
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