Los Angeles

Mystery Surrounds Kenta Maeda's Health as Dodgers Introduce Newest Import

The Dodgers introduced Japanese pitcher Kenta Maeda during a press conference on Thursday, but the mystery surrounding the right-hander's health stayed a mystery.

It was the elephant in the room on Thursday during the Dodgers introductory press conference to announce the signing of Japanese pitcher Kenta Maeda. But, after over an hour of questions, we're still not any closer to uncovering the truth.

It was no secret that the Dodgers had agreed to terms with Maeda on New Year's Eve after sending the $20 million posting fee to Maeda's former team, the Hiroshima Carp. However, in the days that followed, it was widely reported that the deal was held up over concerns regarding Maeda's health.

According to ESPN, the Dodgers discovered problems in Maeda's elbow during his physical in Los Angeles. It was reported that Maeda will eventually require surgery on the elbow, but they signed him to a contract anyway.

Maeda missed significant time in 2013 and 2014 with elbow injuries, but was completely healthy in 2015, leading the Carp to believe his elbow problems were behind him. Maeda went 15-8 with a 2.09 ERA and won the Sawamura Award, the Japanese equivalent of the Cy Young.

Maeda addressed the concerns over his elbow in his introductory statement, but once questions opened up to the media, he refused to discuss the "irregularities" found in his elbow.

"During my physical, some irregularities surfaced," Maeda said through a translator. "Those irregularities factored into the contract I signed. Despite the fact that there were irregularities in my physical, the Dodgers still wanted to sign me to a long-term deal."

The contract is for eight-years and is worth $25 million. That comes out to an average annual salary of $3.125 million, making it a very team friendly contract for the Dodgers. It is the longest contract President of Baseball Operations, Andrew Friedman, has ever negotiated as an executive with the Dodgers, and he says it could be worth over $100 million in incentives over the life of the deal.

"Obviously it factored into the contract," Friedman said of Maeda's physical. "But the fact that he's asymptomatic and pitched as recently as six weeks ago gives us as much confidence as we can have.

"The fact that there's risk involved factored into the length of the agreement and the structure of the agreement. He can earn over $100 million dollars with incentives in this contract and that's what we hope he does."

Maeda can initiate the incentive bonuses with innings pitched and games started. Friedman sees Maeda as a front-end starter and said he can max-out his contract by reaching 30 starts and 200 innings in any given season.

The deal came on the heels of a wild offseason for Los Angeles that saw the Dodgers lose Zack Greinke in free agency, trade for Aroldis Chapman only to back out of the deal after a domestic violence incident came to the surface, and sign Hisashi Iwakuma to a three-year deal only to see it fall apart after he failed his physical due to a shoulder issue.

"Yeah, it felt a little bit like 'here we go again,' or 'déjà vu' when we found out about Maeda," Friedman said. "Except that we hadn't been engaged when we found out. We found out on the front end, and came up with a scenario that could work out for both sides."

The contract took over a week to work out, and nearly fell apart many times as the deadline for the Dodgers to sign Maeda loomed over their heads. Major league teams were given a 30-day negotiating period which was set to expire on Friday.

Had the Dodgers not signed Maeda today, he would have returned back to the Hiroshima Carp and the Dodgers would have lost their $20 million posting fee.

It is believed, but not confirmed, that Maeda's injury is UCL related, which means that he will most likely have to undergo Tommy John surgery once the ligament tears completely. The Dodgers are no strangers to this process as both starters Brandon Beachy and Brandon McCarthy have had to undergo the procedure in recent seasons.

If Maeda does have to undergo Tommy John surgery, the team has plenty of depth behind him and a bevy of minor league pitchers who could step in to the starting rotation.

Meanwhile, Maeda believes he will pitch without any concern for injury in 2016, and will wear No. 18, the same number as his countryman and teammate, Hiroki Kuroda wore with the Dodgers from 2008-2011.

"I am not worried about the upcoming season at all," Maeda said. "I thank the Dodgers for making a long-term commitment. I feel no uncertainty. Zero. Hopefully at the end of the season we will have a champagne fight."

To make room for Maeda on the Dodgers 40-man roster, Los Angeles designated infielder Ronald Torreyes for assignment.

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