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The Los Angeles Dodgers are the leading candidate to acquire Japanese right-hander Kenta Maeda this offseason, according to an MLB.com report Tuesday.

Other teams expressed early interest in Maeda, notably two of the Dodgers’ National League West rivals, the Arizona Diamondbacks and San Francisco Giants. Those two clubs, however, toned down their interest after each acquired a top starting pitcher before the end of the winter meetings.

The Dodgers, on the other hand, have struggled to bolster their pitching staff, having lost former Cy Young Award-winner Zack Greinke to the Diamondbacks as a free agent and declining to sign Seattle Mariners right-hander Hisashi Iwakuma due to health concerns.

Maeda is a two-time winner of the Sawamura Award, the highest honor given to a starting pitcher in Nippon Professional Baseball. This season, he went 15-8 to lead NPB’s Central League in wins with a 2.09 ERA for the fourth-place Hiroshima Carp, striking out 175 while logging 206⅓ innings.

Over his eight-year career, he has a 97-67 record with a 2.39 ERA in 218 games, including 10 shutouts.

The pitcher’s contract is not the only cost, however. Because he is not a free agent, his Japanese club can demand a posting fee of up to $20 million.

Maeda’s signing deadline via the posting system is set for Jan. 8 at 5 p.m. Eastern time. If he fails to land a deal with a major league club, he will return to the Carp for the 2016 season.

Cardinals acquire Leake

AP

Minutes after his contract with the St. Louis Cardinals was announced, Mike Leake was looking ahead to rivalry games against the Chicago Cubs.

“Honestly,” he said Tuesday, “I wouldn’t mind taking them down.”

Leake and the Cardinals agreed to an $80 million, five-year contract, a move the Cardinals hope boosts their chances to win a fourth straight NL Central title.

“When we make decisions, it is about performance,” general manager John Mozeliak said. “We heard nothing but positives.”

Leake described the Cardinals as a “dynasty.” Before last season, St. Louis had been to the NL Championship Series or deeper in four consecutive seasons.

“When the offseason is unfolding, different options pop up,” Mozeliak said. “When this did, we decided it made a lot of sense. I do think it makes the Cardinals stronger.”

Leake gets $12 million next season, $15 million in 2017, $17 million in 2018, $16 million in 2019 and $15 million in 2020.

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