Japanese right-hander Naoyuki Uwasawa is planning a move to North American baseball, as the Nippon Ham-Fighters starter told reporters (including the Kyodo News) at a press conference. Uwasawa isn't yet a full agent, so he will be made available to Major League via the posting system. Uwasawa turns 30 in February, and has a 3.19 ERA over 1118 1/3 career innings with the Fighters, along with a 7.5% walk rate and a modest 19.67% strikeout rate.
Making his NPB debut in 2014, Uwasawa is a three-time All-Star (including this season) and has developed into a reliable starter in terms of both results and durability, apart from a freak injury that shortened his 2019 season. Uwasawa had his left knee fractured by a line drive that year, but has returned in good health, tossing 102 innings during the pandemic-shortened 2020 season and then throwing at least 152 innings in each of the last three full NPB seasons.
MLBTR's Dai Takegami Podziewski has regularly featured Uwasawa in his NPB Players To Watch feature, as Uwasawa has made his intentions clear for some time that he wanted to test himself against North American competition. There are some concerns over Uwasawa's ability to transition to the big leagues, as Dai wrote that “Uwasawa doesn't have an overpowering arm with his average fastball velocity sitting around 90.8 mph. He also does not boast strikeout stuff, while not having the same command that [Kohei] Arihara had when he was coming to MLB (although Arihara himself was wild during his Rangers tenure).” The mention of Arihara isn't a promising comp, as Arihara had a 7.57 ERA over 60 2/3 innings with Texas in 2021-22 before returning to Nippon Professional Baseball for the 2023 campaign.
Nonetheless, MLB teams are gauging for themselves how well they think Uwasawa might fare against big league competition. A Sports Hochi report from September indicated that scouts from the Rangers, Diamondbacks, Reds, Royals, Cubs, and Angels all saw Uwasawa in action, so the righty is drawing a fair amount of interest. While Uwasawa doesn't have the high profile of NPB stars like Yoshinobu Yamamoto, Shota Imanaga, and others this winter, he does represent an interesting mid-level entry into the pitching market who probably won't require a particularly large contract.
As a reminder about the MLB/NPB posting system, any players with less than nine full years of experience must first be posted by his Japanese team before negotiating with Major League clubs. Once posted, Uwasawa has 45 days to talk with any MLB team he wishes, and he would return to the Fighters after those 45 days if no contract agreement is reached. The Fighters would receive a posting fee if Uwasawa did sign with a Major League team, with the fee being worth at least 20% of the guaranteed value of Uwasawa's contract. Should Uwasawa sign for more than $25MM in guaranteed money, the Fighters would receive a higher fee.