Pittsburgh Pirates: Potential International Free Agent Starting Pitching Target For This Off-Season

The Pirates could add to their starting rotation depth by signing this international pitcher this off-season.

Mar 21, 2023; Miami, Florida, USA; Japan starting pitcher Shota Imanaga (21) delivers a pitch during
Mar 21, 2023; Miami, Florida, USA; Japan starting pitcher Shota Imanaga (21) delivers a pitch during / Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports
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The Pittsburgh Pirates should consider Japanese left-handed pitcher Shota Imanaga if he opts to come to the United States during this upcoming off-season.

The Pittsburgh Pirates will probably sign a starting pitcher this off-season. Only Mitch Keller and Johan Oviedo are projected to take two of the five starting pitching roles as of right now. Of course, others like Roansy Contreras, Luis Ortiz, Andre Jackson, and Bailey Falter will be in the running for the remaining rotation spots.

Plus, they have a handful of starting pitching prospects coming up the pipeline, as well as some others returning from injuries. But either way, getting some more stability in the rotation is something the Pirates need to pursue. Shota Imanaga would be a great international free agent to pursue this winter.

The southpaw is in what is his best season in the NBP to date. In 139 innings, Imanaga owns a 2.65 ERA, 0.99 WHIP, and 7.9 K:BB ratio. All three are career bests for Imanaga. He is striking out batters at a rate just shy of 30% at 29.9%. Walks have also been a non-issue for him, with a 3.8% walk rate. That's another career-best mark. The worst number on his scorecard is his 1.04 HR/9 rate, which still isn’t terrible either.

Imanaga has been a model of consistency in Japan. In his eight professional seasons, Imanaga has posted an ERA of 3.00 or greater just twice. Once was in 2020, when he only pitched 50 innings but still managed a quality 3.23 earned run average. If you don’t count his small sample size of 2020, Imanaga has posted a sub-3.00 ERA in seven straight full seasons. His highest mark in those seven years was 2.91 in 2019, while his lowest mark is 2.04, which he set in 2022.

Imanaga is not a hard-throwing arm. He typically sits in the lower 90s, averaging out around 91-94. He also throws a splitter, cutter, and a 12-6 curve. His cutter/slider is more of a hybrid between the two pitches, according to Sport Information Solutions. Bleacher Report suggests a similar deal for Imanaga that was given to Kodai Senga last off-season from the New York Mets (5 years, $75 million), which is a bargain.

Imanaga just turned 30 at the start of September. Because of his age, he is free to sign with any MLB team without having to request him to be posted. While the Pirates aren't known to be big spenders, their payroll as well as their tendency to spend has steadily increased. Plus, the Pirates also love their left-handed starting pitchers, so maybe this will be one bigger name they go after and are willing to hand more money to.

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