To some, it may feel like just yesterday, but to most, nine years is two high-school tenures, the entire lifespan of Twitter and just shy of a decade. But, on this day nine years ago, the Orioles signed right-handed pitcher Koji Uehara, a free-agent from the Nippon Professional Baseball league in Japan.
Uehara spent ten seasons in the NPB, playing all ten with the Yomiuri Giants. From 1999 to 2008, Uehara found success, tallying a record of 112-62 in 276 appearances (205 starts), and an ERA of 3.00 in 1,553 innings.
Some can argue the Japanese Giants mirror the New York Yankees in regards to franchise success.
The Giants have won 22 Japan Series Championships and 34 Central League Pennants. The Yankees have captured 27 World Championships and 40 American League Pennants. Another connection between the Giants of the NPB and the Yankees of MLB is Hideki Matsui, but that could be a whole blog entry on a Yankees fan-page.
Returning back to the point of the article, Koji Uehara’s deal with the Orioles was for two years, totaling $10MM.
Koji was brought to the Orioles with the idea of keeping him as a starting pitcher and that’s what they did for his first season in the majors until an injury to his right elbow sidelined him after making just 12 starts.
Highlights during those starts included giving up one run to the Yankees on two different occasions–April 8 through five innings and May 10 through six–and limiting the Florida Marlins to one run over six innings.
It was officially announced in September of that year, that Uehara would be shut down for the remainder of the season, leading the Orioles to an offseason where the decision was made to change his role with the club from a starting pitcher to late-inning reliever.
In 2010, Uehara was setup man to then-closer Alfredo Simon. Appearing in 23 games before assuming the closer role in August, Koji pitched 25 innings, posted a 1.80 ERA and gave up just five earned runs. With a blown save versus the White Sox on August 9, Simon was removed from closer duties, allowing Koji to step in.
In his final 20 appearances of the season, Koji was able to convert 13-of-15 saves, allowing nine runs in 19 innings.
The Orioles finished that 2010 campaign with a 66-96 record, their 17th worst finish in franchise history.
That’s just an off-topic trip down memory lane for those who enjoy being reminded of the ghosts of Orioles past.
In the offseason heading into 2011, Koji Uehara was brought back to Baltimore on a one-year, $3MM deal. His tenure with the Orioles didn’t last the whole season though, as he was traded at the deadline in July for RHP Tommy Hunter and first baseman, Chris Davis.
Koji’s final stat line with the O’s was headlined by a 3.03 ERA in 98 games (12 starts) and a 1.002 WHIP.
Today, Koji Uehara is a free agent, hoping a team will sign him for the upcoming 2018 season. Koji has played with the Orioles, Texas Rangers, Boston Red Sox and most recently, the Chicago Cubs.
Having spent nine seasons with the NPB and nine seasons in the majors, if signed, this will be Koji’s 19th season in professional baseball. Currently, there are only four Japanese players on active MLB rosters–Junichi Tazawa (Marlins), Masahiro Tanaka (Yankees), Kenta Maeda (Dodgers) and Yoshihisa Hirano (Diamondbacks)–and none of them have the professional baseball tenure that rivals Uehara’s.