Is Japanese RHP Kohei Arihara a fit for Padres?

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Credit: The Japan Times

In search of pitching, the San Diego Padres could look towards Japanese right-handed pitcher Kohei Arihara.

Kohei Arihara, a right-handed pitcher in the NPB, is rumored to be posted by his team, the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters.

In the posting process, MLB teams can negotiate a contract with Arihara freely. If a contract is reached, then whichever team signs him will have to pay a fee to the Ham Fighters.

Arihara will provide an MLB team with a durable pitcher and a big pitch mix. His arsenal includes a change-up, splitter, cutter, two-seam fastball, and curveball. In 2019 he posted a 2.46 ERA and a 3.46 ERA in 2020. He might not be a front of the line starter but could easily be serviceable.

As of right now, the Padres, Rangers, Marlins, and Blue Jays have shown interest in bringing him to their team. It’s not unusual for the Padres to be in rumors about a free agent. General manager A.J. Preller is constantly involved in the free-agent market and looking to improve his team.

The Padres have three locks in their rotational future, Mike Clevinger, Dinelson Lamet, and Zach Davies. Clevinger will be out for the 2021 season and possibly some of the 2022 season with Tommy John surgery. 2020 Opening Day starter Chris Paddack will likely take the third spot for 2021. Despite taking a massive step back in 2020, the injury to Clevinger should secure him a spot. That leaves two spots left for the taking.

The Padres have four younger players, all aiming for that spot. Adrian Morejón served in the bullpen for 2020. He was on a pitch limit due to his injury history, so that stopped him from pushing to be a starter. He has a chance to compete for the rotation, and he should have a spot on the team. Luis Patiño also worked out of the bullpen, but with less success. Like Morejón, he has been playing as a starter in the minors. That leaves top prospect MacKenzie Gore, and Ryan Weathers left. Both spent almost all their time at the alternate site as they continued to develop solely as starters.

One thing working against Arihara is that he is a righty pitcher. The Padres are loaded with righties, which doesn’t play well against the lefty-heavy Dodgers, the Padres’ main competition. Some left-handed arms would need to find places in the bullpen to balance out the matchups if he is added.

Here is some video of the pitcher from his days at Waseda Univesity. It will give you an idea of mechanics and such.

A note of concern is the difference in play between the NPB and the MLB. Typically the NPB is viewed as having the highest level of play outside of the MLB and is at an AAAA level — if that existed. A player to look at is Masahiro Tanaka, who came to the MLB in 2014. His career NPB ERA was 2.29, which is outstanding, but in his time in the MLB, he has a 3.74 ERA. Now looking at Arihara, who has a career ERA of 3.74 in the NPB. If an adjustment to the MLB yields the same results, Arihara would be a fifth starter at best on a lot of teams.

The Padres and A.J. Preller will do their due diligence on Kohei like they do with every player. The injury to Clevinger makes it more likely that the Padres sign a pitcher to fill in for him this year. The other option for Preller is to take a chance on his promising prospects and hope they can quickly adjust to the big leagues.

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