There have been a lot of players to make the jump from Japan to the major leagues, but Junichi Tazawa is a special case. Unlike players like Ichiro Suzuki or Daisuke Matsuzaka who proved their worth by playing in Japan's professional ranks for years, Tazawa is a 22-year-old amateur who requested he not be drafted by any of Japan's teams, allowing him to make the jump directly across the Pacific.
As far as major league teams, this is both a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, Tazawa is eligible to be signed just like any other free agent and won't require a hefty posting fee on top of his contract. (By comparison, the Red Sox had to paid $51 million to Dice-K's former team a couple of years ago simply for the right to negotiate.)
So what's the downside? Just like signing any untested prospect, there's no guarantee Tazawa will actually pan out. If Tazawa had any professional experience, at least MLB teams would have a frame of reference for how well he might perform in the states.
Instead, they have to make a leap of faith based on gaudy amateur stats against questionable competition and scouting reports that have been mixed, including some that suggest he might need at least a year in the minors before he's ready to contribute.
Even so, Tazawa has no shortage of interested suitors: the Braves reportedly made a big league offer earlier this month, and the Indians, Tigers and Mariners are believed to have spoken with him, as well. And today, we have word that the Red Sox joined the fray with an offer of $6 million.
It'll be interesting to see how the market reacts to Boston's offer. The Red Sox obviously have more money than most, but they've also had more success when it comes to Japanese pitchers with Dice-K winning 18 games this year and Hideki Okajima helping anchor the bullpen. Will teams who haven't scouted Tazawa as thoroughly be tempted to join the bidding based solely on Boston's confidence? Stay tuned.