Wednesday, February 21, 2024

MLB rumors: Japanese phenom Roki Sasaki agrees to NPB deal for 2024, Rangers and Braves make minor trade

The seemingly terminally slow offseason in Major League Baseball marches on here in late January with four of the top 10 free agents (Cody Bellinger, Matt Chapman, Blake Snell and Jordan Montgomery) still available, and rumors regarding the four are sparse. At least there were a pair of noteworthy signings Thursday night in Joc Pederson to the Diamondbacks and David Robertson to the Rangers. Still, spring training opens in just a few weeks and there’s plenty of offseason business yet to be resolved. 

Let’s dive in to the news and rumors for Friday. 

Sasaki agrees to one-year deal in NPB

Japanese phenom Roki Sasaki has only played in three professional seasons and is headed toward his age-22 year. He has expressed interest in being posted for MLB teams as soon as possible, though Nippon Professional Baseball rules indicate he might be stuck there until after the 2026 season. For more details, check out the full story here

For the time being, Sasaki has a one-year deal with the Chiba Lotte Marines, the club announced.

In 15 starts last season, Sasaki was 7-4 with a 1.78 ERA and 0.75 WHIP with 135 strikeouts against 17 walks in 91 innings. He also made two starts in the World Baseball Classic for Japan, going 1-0 with a 3.52 ERA and 11 strikeouts in 7 2/3 innings. 

Here’s a brief scouting report from R.J. Anderson:

Sasaki has two massive offerings, an upper-90s rising fastball and a devastating splitter/forkball, and a shockingly good feel for throwing strikes based on his age and his stuff. He’s struck out 34% of the batters he’s faced as a professional, all the while walking just 5% of them. That 29% margin, for reference, would’ve ranked second in the majors in 2023, behind only Atlanta Braves flamethrower Spencer Strider. Sasaki does need to improve his durability. He was limited to 91 innings last year by an oblique injury, and to date he’s cleared the century mark just once. Otherwise, Sasaki can rightly claim to already be one of the planet’s most talented pitchers. 

Braves, Rangers complete minor deal

The Rangers traded outfielder J.P. Martinez to the Braves for right-handed pitcher Tyler Owens, the teams announced. 

Martinez, 27, is a 5-foot-8 left-handed hitter and appeared in 17 games with the Rangers last season, hitting .225/.250/.325. In 77 Triple-A games, he hit .298/.418/.543 with 21 doubles, four triples, 14 homers, 59 RBI, 54 runs and 38 steals. He’s played all three outfield positions. Obviously, the MVP (Ronald Acuña Jr.) has right field locked down with Michael Harris II in center, but it’s possible some at-bats come open in left field, where Jarred Kelenic is the planned starter right now. 

Owens, 23, spent last season in High-A and Double-A. In 29 appearances, he pitched to a 3.03 ERA, 1.35 WHIP and stuck out 67 in 65 1/3 innings. He was used both as a starter and reliever. 

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