Source says #Dodgers-Kenta Maeda deal is taking a while because of concerns over his elbow. Expected to be official in next day or 2.
— Jerry Crasnick (@jcrasnick) January 6, 2016
After losing out on Hisashi Iwakuma due to issues with his shoulder, passing on Aroldis Chapman after it was revealed that he might be a monster, and other ill-fated potential moves, this is just funny. When it rains, it pours, right? However, this could also explain why the deal’s guaranteed money is so low and might have been known all along.
Maeda has been relatively durable in Japan, pitching exactly 1400 innings over the past seven seasons, but he has not been without his elbow issues in the past. Maeda also was removed early from a start due to elbow tightness in August of 2013. He did not miss a start. More recently, on April 12th, 2014, Maeda was pulled from a start due to tightness in his pitching elbow. The tightness began before the start, but he tried to pitch through it and almost made it way worse. He only missed one start as a result of the injury, and has not had any problems with his elbow since.
Other than those two incidents, Maeda has not had many injury problems with his arm. He has had muscle problems with his back and sides, which caused him to miss some extra time in both 2013 and 2014. He has also missed time due to tonsillitis and from being struck by batted balls on three different occasions. Maeda’s delivery is high-effort, which could contribute some risk. On the other hand, he does not share a common risk with many other Japanese pitchers, in that he doesn’t throw a splitter anymore. Splitters are considered to be very difficult on the arm, but Maeda hasn’t thrown one in a few years and only used it sparingly before that. Additionally, his velocity has been trending upward over the past two seasons.
Overall, Maeda’s elbow seemed like it was low risk, even after some reports of injury concerns popped up last month. Before 2013, he was pretty much bulletproof. Let’s not pretend that this elbow concern was unique to Maeda’s case, either. Johnny Cueto‘s elbow was a question as recently as earlier this year, when he struggled post-deadline in Kansas City. Even Zack Greinke missed time with an elbow issue in 2013 and had “creeping concerns” before the playoffs in 2014. The timing of Greinke’s elbow problems more or less match Maeda’s. This is a question with pretty much every free agent.
Ultimately, I expect that this deal will still get done. It explains quite a bit about the structure of the contract. In a way, the low guarantee with high incentives is a more extreme version of the John Lackey contract clause that gave the Red Sox (then Cardinals after he was traded) a free year of team control after he missed a year with Tommy John surgery. The Dodgers still need Maeda, so even if they need to modify the structure even more, they’ll probably find a way to make it work.