Yamaguchi provides rotation depth for Giants

February 22nd, 2021

The Giants invited nearly 20 non-roster pitchers to big league camp this spring, but one of the most intriguing candidates to watch will be the newest addition to the fray: Japanese right-hander , who joined San Francisco on a Minor League deal on Saturday.

Yamaguchi, 33, signed a two-year, $6.35 million deal with the Blue Jays last offseason, but he struggled in his first season in the Majors, posting an 8.06 ERA over 25 2/3 innings in 17 relief appearances for Toronto in 2020. The Giants were able to add him at a minimal cost, as the Blue Jays are still on the hook to pay him $3.175 million in 2021 after he was released last week. If Yamaguchi earns a spot on San Francisco’s roster, the Giants will owe him only the Major League minimum.

Before coming to the United States, Yamaguchi pitched in Japan for 14 years and recorded a 3.35 ERA in Nippon Professional Baseball. He enjoyed a career season with the Yomiuri Giants in 2019, when he went 16-4 with a 2.78 ERA over 181 innings.

“He's a guy that our international scouts have seen a lot of over in Japan,” president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi said on Sunday. “Obviously, he had a tremendous season in 2019 in Japan and has a long track record of both starting and relieving. ... He’s a pro who has weapons who can fill different roles for us.”

Yamaguchi was used exclusively in relief last year, but Zaidi said the Giants plan to stretch him out this spring and give him a chance to compete for a starting role on the club. The Giants’ top five starters appear to be set after they finalized a one-year contract with right-hander Aaron Sanchez on Sunday, but Zaidi said he expects rotation depth to be critical as teams try to stockpile enough arms to cover more innings over the course of the 162-game season this year.

Yamaguchi’s transition to the Majors was made all the more difficult by the unusual circumstances that resulted from playing a season through a global pandemic, but the Giants are hoping he’ll be able to return to form in his second season in the United States.

The Giants plan to evaluate him this spring, but they’ll have a deadline to make a decision on Yamaguchi, who has an assignment clause in his contract that will allow him to explore opportunities with other teams if he isn’t added to San Francisco’s roster.

“If we don't add him, it’ll be an opportunity for other teams to express interest in him and for us to work out a deal,” Zaidi said. “But we'll cross that bridge when we get to it.”

Established veterans like Yamaguchi typically aren’t receptive to the idea of spending time in the Minors, but Zaidi said he “hasn’t totally closed the door on that possibility if it makes sense for both sides.”

Long ‘turning heads’

Left-hander Sam Long, a Sacramento State product who was selected by the Rays in the 18th round of the 2016 Draft, has emerged as a surprise standout early in camp. The 25-year-old is also being stretched out this spring and has been “turning heads,” according to rookie catcher Joey Bart.

"Long continues to impress,” manager Gabe Kapler said. “He continues to look like a guy who has a chance to be a Major League starter at some point. [Buster] Posey caught Long today, and I think Buster was pretty impressed by his stuff and ability to attack the strike zone.”