The (multi) million-dollar question this offseason is whether Japanese pitcher Kenta Maeda will be posted by Nippon Professional Baseball’s Hiroshima Carp.

Maeda was the subject of rumors last offseason as well, after the 26-year-old right-hander openly expressed a desire to pursue a career in Major League Baseball. However, with four years of team control remaining at that time, the Carp chose not to post their top pitcher, keeping him in Japan for at least one more year.

Now, with the free agency underway, speculation regarding Maeda’s future in the States is once again picking up steam. But according to a recent report from The Japan Times (h/t MLB Trade Rumors), Hiroshima Carp owner Hajime Matsuda hasn’t decided whether the club will make Maeda available through the posting system.

“We have the right. We would like to let him go, but based on his production this year it will be difficult,” Matsuda said.

When Maeda said last offseason that he’d like to be posted, he was coming off a strong campaign in which he went 15-7 in 26 starts with a 2.10 ERA, 0.962 WHIP and 158 strikeouts in 175.2 innings. The year before that, the right-hander posted a career-best 1.53 ERA with 171 strikeouts in 206.1 innings and allowed only six home runs.

Maeda took a slight step backward (at least by his standards) this past season, as Matsuda alluded to, going 11-9 in 28 starts while posting a 2.60 ERA and allowing 12 home runs in 187 innings.

Yet, Maeda’s body of work speaks for itself: 2.44 ERA, 1.053 WHIP, 1,058 strikeouts (7.3 K/9) and 278 walks (1.9 BB/9) in 1,303.1 innings spanning seven seasons. He’s also thrown 23 complete games, 10 of which were shutouts.

Back in mid-October, Ben Badler of Baseball America (subscription required) was on hand for what might have been Maeda’s final start in NPB, the first game of a best-of-three semifinal matchup between Hiroshima and the Hanshin Tigers.

In the game, Maeda allowed one run on six hits, one walk and one hit batsman over six innings, striking out six. The one run he allowed was a home run in his final inning, though, and Hanshin went on to win, 1-0.

However, while his final line may suggest a strong outing, Badler wasn’t overly impressed.

He praised the right-hander’s fastball in the outing, which sat in the 89-to-94-mph range, noting that he mixed in both four- and two-seamers, and featured “crisp” command of both pitches.

Badler also had good things to say (subscription required) about Maeda’s fastball following his final regular-season start, especially in regard to his velocity:

Maeda’s velocity was impressive, ranging from 90-94 mph and hitting 94 four times. In previous outings, he’s thrown anywhere from 87-94 mph, but he didn’t throw a fastball below 90 today and he spotted it well. Maeda pitched mostly off his four-seamer, though he mixed in a handful of two-seam fastballs with a little more armside run, too.

Unfortunately, Maeda’s slider doesn’t receive glowing reviews like his fastball, which is troubling because it’s his primary secondary offering. In his playoff outing, Badler notes that the right-hander threw the pitch 42 times in 106 pitches, generating 13 whiffs.

However, Badler worries that Maeda’s slider command could be an issue against big league hitters:

It’s not a wipeout slider, but it’s 80-83 mph and usually anywhere from a 50 to 55 on the 20-80 scale, maybe tickling plus if you really like when he snaps off a good one. The problem is that Maeda hung way many sliders up in the zone, but for the most part, the Tigers didn’t capitalize on those opportunities. Against a major league lineup, a pitcher who leaves that many sliders flat and above the belt is rarely going to get through six innings with only one run on the scoreboard.

As for the rest of Maeda’s arsenal, he throws a curveball in the low 70s with a huge vertical break that rivals that of Barry Zito and Ted Lilly, according to Clint Hulsey of I R Fast. The right-hander also will mix in a cutter in the high 80s in his starts, as well as a changeup that comes in a few ticks slower, the latter of which “flashes average,” per Badler.

So what kind of pitcher should we expect Maeda to be should he be posted?

Based on reports of his arsenal, it’s clear that Maeda isn’t the next Yu Darvish or Masahiro Tanaka—not a front-of-the-rotation starter.

However, that doesn’t mean there isn’t a spot for him in a big league rotation.

At 26, the 6’0”, 160-pound right-hander possesses three average-or-better pitches with room left to develop. Sure, there is uncertainty as to how his stuff and approach will translate in the major leagues, but that’s also been the case with every international pitcher, and the majority of the time, teams know what they’re doing. Based on his deep arsenal and strong command profile, Maeda seemingly has the floor of a high-end No. 4 starter for a major league team. At the same time, I don’t think anyone would be surprised if he surpassed that rather conservative projection.

Any team interested in landing Maeda can make a run at him (if he’s posted) by submitting a bid no larger than $20 million, a rule established last offseason that facilitated the sweepstakes for Masahiro Tanaka, with negotiating rights going to the high bidder. Therefore, expect a host of clubs, likely many of the same ones that bid on Tanaka, to target the right-hander.

The Red Sox already have expressed interest in Maeda, according to Nick Cafardo of The Boston Globe:

The Red Sox have had multiple scouts and executives watch Hiroshima Carp righthander Kenta Maeda, including his most recent start. Maeda will be posted in November and it would be surprising if the Red Sox didn’t post the $25 million fee for the chance to negotiate with Maeda, who could fill one of their five rotation slots. Maeda is considered a smaller version of Masahiro Tanaka.

Meanwhile, Nick Piecoro of believes that the Diamondbacks will pursue Maeda after coming up short last year with Tanaka.

And for what it’s worth, Tim Dierkes of MLB Trade Rumors believes Maeda, whom he lists as the offseason’s 12th-best free agent, will end up with the Astros.

Maeda’s future price tag, should he be posted, is a whole different story; it could come down to his performance in the upcoming five-game All-Star Series in Japan against an MLB roster loaded with stars. (Check out for more on the series, which begins next Wednesday.)

Regardless, it’s not going to be anywhere in the ballpark of the $155 million the Yankees gave to Tanaka last winter. And in case you’re wondering, the Rangers paid nearly $108 million to acquire Yu Darvish in 2012, including a winning bid of $51,703,411 for negotiating rights.

One thing is certain: We’ll all have a better idea about Maeda next week after watching him face many of MLB’s premier hitters.

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