Junichi Tazawa has now reportedly signed a term sheet with Boston, meaning that as long as he passes a physical he'll be a member of the Red Sox. Tazawa apparently turned down more money -- perhaps significantly more, depending on where Boston's final offer landed between $3 million and $6 million -- from other clubs, signing with the team that had been scouting him as early as last year.
Signing Tazawa was a no-brainer for the Red Sox. If he was an American college player eligible for next June's draft, at worst he'd be taken in the top two rounds, and I think it's likely he'd go in the back half or third of the first round. Boston has to burn a spot on its 40-man roster on him, but they had two spots open already and have at least two or three players they could outright if they need the room.
He's not major-league ready, having only pitched in an amateur industrial league in Japan, but he should be ready to start in Double-A and could see the majors in late 2009 if all goes well. His splitter (or split-change) should give minor-league hitters nightmares, but he'll need to work on his fastball command. If his breaking ball doesn't come along, he projects more as a plus two-pitch reliever than as a starter.
Assuming that today's report in the Boston Globe of a $3 million price tag is accurate, it raises the question of why Tazawa would turn down higher-valued offers. One source indicated to me that Tazawa wanted to play alongside his idol, Daisuke Matsuzaka, but is something that fickle -- major-league players are traded all the time -- worth leaving as much as $4 million on the table? Tazawa had the opportunity that American-born amateur players would kill to get: He could shop his services to any team with no restrictions and receive his actual market value rather than an artificially depressed figure dictated by the Commissioner's Office. For most amateur players, their initial signing bonuses represent the bulk of the money they'll earn in professional baseball, so it is in Tazawa's interest to try to maximize his bonus payment now. Even so, at $3 million, he earned more than most drafted players receive in signing bonuses, and I expect the agents for the top college starters in next year's class -- Steve Strasburg, Alex White, Aaron Crow, Andy Oliver, et al -- to try to use that figure as a mere starting point for negotiations.