Kenta Maeda appears worth the injury risk thanks to his friendly contract

The Dodgers finalized a deal with Japanese right-handed starter Kenta Maeda yesterday, and his contract guarantees just $25 million over eight years. The contract doesn’t have a no-trade clause, has no opt-outs, and includes only ~$10 million in incentives a year.

With an annual base salary of $3 million plus a $1 million signing bonus, according to the AP Maeda each year can earn $150,000 for being on the Opening Day roster, $1 million each for 15 and 20 starts, $1.5 million each for 25, 30 and 32 starts, $250,000 for every 10 innings pitched from 90 to 190 and $750,000 for 200 innings pitched.

The Dodgers also must pay Maeda’s Japan club a $20 million release fee, which Friedman said led to a contract that binds Maeda to the Dodgers for eight seasons. There are no opt-outs, option years or no-trade provisions, but Maeda will receive a payment if he is traded.

The catch, of course, is the injury concerns that emerged a couple days ago, and those rumblings were confirmed by the parties involved at the introductory press conference.

Right off the bat, Maeda acknowledged what his interpreter said were “irregularities” in his physical that were factored into his contract, limiting his market and ultimately lowering his overall guarantee. When pressed, Maeda wouldn’t address specific questions about his physical or his elbow, but did say he expected to be healthy enough to pitch in 2016 and beyond.

“I played in Japan for nine years and never left the team for a long period of time because of injury,” Maeda said. “I’m not worried about this season at all. I’m confident I’ll be able to pitch.”

Maeda certainly sounds assured, and Andrew Friedman echoed some of that confidence, saying that Maeda is “totally asymptomatic; he pitched as recently as six weeks ago, and that gives us as much confidence as we can have at this point that he will be a meaningful part of the team in 2016.” That said, the mystery regarding Maeda’s health still persists because nobody at the press conference seemed excited to elaborate on how extensive the damage is.

Of course, while the silence on the extent of Maeda’s injury risk will always be concerning, the Dodgers have done a nice job of protecting themselves from disaster. Given that the money guaranteed to Maeda only totals $45 million in total outlay over eight years and that wins figure to average at least $8-9 million per over his deal, unless Maeda suffers a catastrophic arm injury early and never recovers, it’s a good bet that the Dodgers will at least get a return on their investment, with a solid chance that they’ll get themselves a bargain.

I’ve previously voiced concerns about the Dodgers potentially botching this off-season after not inking a front-line starter, and I still feel that way, but getting Scott Kazmir and now Maeda is about as quality a recovery job as I could’ve wanted in response. And while the team was never really doomed, it’s sure a lot easier to be more optimistic going into the 2016 season with those two on board than it was a few weeks ago.

Maeda said during the press conference that he looked forward to a “champagne fight” with the Dodgers in October, and him being healthy and productive would have a huge impact towards the team meeting that goal. So hopefully Maeda’s bet on himself pays off in the end, but the point is that even if it doesn’t, it’s hard to begrudge the Dodgers for taking a chance on Maeda with this type of deal.

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