LOS ANGELES – The Dodgers opened their wallet to sign pitcher Kenta Maeda to an incentive-laden deal that could be worth $106.2 million if he stays healthy, a risk the team was willing to take despite knowing he has had elbow issues.
After the $25 million, eight-year contract was finalized Thursday, Maeda was introduced during a news conference at Dodger Stadium.
Maeda and the Dodgers acknowledged that his physical revealed unspecified “irregularities.” The 27-year-old right-hander said he’s confident he will be able to pitch a full season in the major leagues.
“Despite the fact there were some irregularities found, the Dodgers made a decision to make a long-term commitment to me and that was meaningful to me,” Maeda said through a translator.
Maeda and Andrew Friedman, the Dodgers’ president of baseball operations, declined to get specific.
“It factored into the contract, but the fact that he’s asymptomatic and pitched as recently as six weeks ago gives us as much confidence as we can have at this point,” Friedman said afterward. “We’re optimistic he’s going to help us win a lot of games over a lot of years.”
Asked why the Dodgers would take such a risk, Friedman said, “Most if not all pitchers have injury risk. We just know more about it on the front end.
“We have had the chance to scout him extensively in Japan and on the international stage and believe he has all the tools to be a successful major league starting pitcher,” added Friedman. “We look forward to Kenta adding another chapter to the Dodgers’ global legacy and to him strengthening our ball club in the years ahead.”
If Maeda is on the Dodgers’ opening-day roster each season and makes 32 starts and pitches 200 innings each year, he would receive the full $106.2 million. He would earn $150,000 annually for being on the 25-man opening-day active roster.
“I played in Japan for nine years and never left the team for a long time due to injury,” he said. “I’m confident I’m going to be able to pitch.”
Maeda was 15-8 with a 2.09 ERA in 29 starts in 2015. In eight seasons with Hiroshima, Maeda went 97-67 with a 2.39 ERA and 1.05 WHIP. He has twice won the Sawamura Award.
He becomes the only healthy right-hander in the team’s otherwise lefty-dominated rotation, joining Clayton Kershaw, Brett Anderson, Scott Kazmir and Alex Wood. The Dodgers lost right-hander Zack Greinke, who opted out of his contract and signed with NL West rival Arizona.
“We’re pretty well set in the rotation,” said Friedman, adding the team would monitor the market for additional bullpen arms.
Friedman said the team considers Maeda to be a starter. The three-time NL West champions will be relying on him and the rest of their rotation to reach the World Series for the first time since 1988.
“I really want to do a champagne fight at the end of the season,” Maeda said, drawing laughs in the room packed with Japanese media.
Maeda follows such Japanese stars as Hideo Nomo and Hiroki Kuroda in donning a Dodgers jersey.
Los Angeles will pay Maeda’s former team, the Hiroshima Carp, a $20 million posting fee, Friedman said.
Maeda’s contract is loaded with performance bonuses and an annual roster bonus of $150,000 if he is on the 25-man opening-day active roster.
He would receive $6.5 million annually based on starts: $1 million each for 15 and 20, and $1.5 million apiece for 25, 30 and 32 starts.
He would earn $3.5 million annually based on innings pitched: $250,000 for 90 and each additional 10 through 190, and $750,000 for 200.
Maeda is guaranteed to wear jersey No. 18 — the same number he wore in Japan. Other perks in the contract include four round-trip business-class tickets between Japan and Los Angeles each year, an interpreter, and travel expenses, accommodations and visa costs for a player support staff individual.
New manager Dave Roberts, who was born in Okinawa, was on hand to welcome Maeda, along with general manager Farhan Zaidi and team president Stan Kasten.
Maeda becomes the eighth Japanese-born player in franchise history. He said his family will move to Los Angeles, too.
He introduced himself in English and explained he had been pitching for the Carp before switching to Japanese.
“The Dodgers obviously have a tremendous history and I’m very happy to be part of it,” Maeda said.