Jays Sign Ken Takahashi

The Jays signed another player and, no, it wasn't a major-league deal this time.  Today, the Jays signed 39-year old left-handed pitcher Ken Takahashi , formerly of the Hiroshima Carp, to a minor-league deal.  Takahashi will get a spring training invite along with his deal and so will presumably be on his way to Dunedin very soon with pitchers and catchers reporting in less than two weeks.  According to MLB.com, Takahashi was not planning on pitching for Japan in the upcoming World Baseball Classic, and he certainly won't be doing so now. 

Nippon Professional Baseball Tracker had a nice little profile of Takahashi back around Christmas.  The former 4th round draft pick made his debut in the mid/late 90s as a reliever for the Carp and transitioned to the starting rotation in 2001.  Over his career, Takahashi has a 4.23 ERA, though he did manage a 3.50 mark last season in 20 starts, going 8-5 despite 5.52 K/9 and 1.69 K/BB ratios. 

Takahashi throws a fastball, slider, sinker, and curve for sure, though there is some dispute as to whether the sinker is really a shutto (a hard screwball, essentially) or circle change rather than a true sinker, and will be 40 right about when the season begins.  His MO is to keep the ball down with his sinker and use his breaking pitches to keep hitters off balance and according to one of the NPB commenters, hits 91 on the gun.  He had a ton of success early last season and appeared to tire out as the season went on, so perhaps a relief role where he was throwing less pitches at a time would suit him.  Historically, though, he has had more success when given a regular spot in the Carp's starting rotation (including solid results over the last two seasons as a starter), though he did have pretty solid ratios (40 K/14 BB in 46 Innings) as a reliever in 2006. 

It's difficult to see Takahashi fittting on the Jays major-league roster, since I don't think he's really in competition for a starting job, and the Jays are stacked with lefty bullpen options with Downs, Carlson, and Tallet all set to make the big-league roster, not to mention B.J. Ryan, who is another southpaw.  Davis Romero had a good season as a starter in Syracuse last season and also throws with his left hand, suggesting that he's a legitimate option as well, particularly as he [pitched very well against lefties (almost a 6/1 K/BB ratio against them). 

But we know Ricciardi loves his lefty pitchers, and it's hard to argue with a minor-league deal.  It doesn't at all look like Downs or Tallet is going to be needed in the rotation, but if the Jays wanted to trade one or more of their lefties, Takahashi might find himself with a situational left-hander role.  It's a crowded bullpen picture though, both in the majors and at AAA Las Vegas. 

Update:  According to NPB Tracker, Takahashi will be evaluated by the Jays as a starter, and if he makes the team and meets all incentives, he can earn up to $1.5 million.  I still don't think he has much chance of making the Jays' rotation. 

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