In his first two MLB seasons, Kenta Maeda was a solid source for innings and productive pitching. While his debut season outshined his performance in this past campaign, his success and newfound flexibility are attractive qualities for a player to have. But, with a surplus in talent, and Kenta being a fringe player in the rotation and perhaps the bullpen, his value to the Dodgers may be on the trading block rather than on the roster.
Maeda was a force to be reckoned with for the Dodgers in his rookie season. He pitched the most innings on the team with 175.2 frames and finished with an ERA of 3.48, an ERA+ of 115, and a WHIP of 1.13. He made 32 starts that year and finished third in voting for Rookie of the Year Award. Needless to say, Kenta’s promise going into his sophomore season was sky high after having a stellar first season.
Year two, however, was not nearly as good as year one as all of his statistics saw significant decreases. This past season, Maeda only managed 134.1 innings, an ERA of 4.22, and a WHIP of 1.15. But, perhaps more concerning than his game level statistics is his ERA+ and his Runs Above Average. With the mark for being considered “average” set at 100, Maeda finished with an ERA+ of 99, 16 points less than last year. His RAA was not promising either. With average set at 0, Maeda’s RAA went from his rookie season rating of 9 to an abysmal -7.
So, at this point you are probably, and very reasonably, wondering why on earth any team would want to trade for decaying statistics? There are two main answers to that question: his contract and his flexibility as a starter or reliever.
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When Kenta signed with the Dodgers before the 2016 season, the front office was bound by strict international signing rules that limited the amounts of money that could be offered to any player. So, the Dodgers beat the system by guaranteeing Maeda just $25 million over eight years as well as including bonuses for accomplishing different statistical feats every year.
For someone with middle to back of the rotation stuff and stats, that contract would be considered a bargain and a blessing for any team in the league. Even if Maeda’s statistics slightly regress beyond last season, he’s still regarded as a cheap pitching option with the flexibility to start or relieve.
The only issue with his contract is the need for restructure should he become a reliever. Most of Maeda’s incentives are based on starting pitcher statistics. Thus, whatever team he is on would have to rework the details to accommodate his change.
That flexibility mentioned above is probably the most significant factor in this whole deal for both a buyer and the sellers. At the end of this past season, and more so in the playoffs, Maeda emphatically proved that he is capable of being a reliever. Albeit a small sample size, Kenta sported a fastball roughly three miles per hour faster than his starting heater at approximately 95.
His stuff went from good to elite, and he seemed to have a knack for the strikeout with 11.3 strikeouts per nine innings. This ability to be a quality reliever and starter would sever him well on the trade market. The Dodgers would be able to market him as a two-way pitcher, and that could easily be a selling point for many teams.
At the moment, Andrew Friedman says the team has no intention of using Maeda has a reliever, but that begs the question of where he will start in the rotation. With Kershaw, Hill, McCarthy, Wood, and Ryu ready to go, Maeda could very well be left out of that group as well. All that is said and that doesn’t include Walker Buehler who should make an impact next season.
So, if he truly has no spot right now, the return he may bring in by trade is intriguing. Maeda will surely net some nice prospects and cash in a trade. And there are certainly teams that could use a good starter or reliever. This all begs the question: is it time to look into a trade for Kenta Maeda? I think it’s worth at least testing the market.