Former Red Sox closer Koji Uehara expressed his intent to retire after the 2018 season after 10 years in the Nippon Professional Baseball Organization and nine seasons in the MLB.
“If I get a contract, I’m more than 90 percent certain this will be the end,” Uehara said.
With Uehara looking for a one-year contract and the loss of a couple bullpen arms, it would seem fitting to bring him back to the Red Sox bullpen for one final season.
He started his MLB career in 2009 after signing a one-year, $5 million deal with the Baltimore Orioles. He spent his first Major League season as a starter, starting 12 games. The Orioles put Uehara in the bullpen for 2010 after realizing his 4.05 ERA and 1.245 WHIP was not starter material after he signed a three-year, $12M deal.
During his first season in the bullpen, Uehara showed that he was worth the $10 million he was signed for, with a much better 2.86 ERA and 0.955 WHIP. Despite Uehara’s bullpen success, the Orioles were in need of a starter. Baltimore decided to trade Uehara to the Texas Rangers for starter Tommy Hunter and first/third baseman Chris Davis in the middle of the 2011 season.
Uehara started off poorly with the Rangers, having a 4.00 ERA in the 22 games he played with them in 2011, but he began showing dominance the following season. In 2012 Uehara started to become the dominant pitcher he’s known for being. In his 37 games and 36 innings, he allowed only seven runs and 20 hits, with a 0.639 WHIP.
After becoming a free agent in 2012, Uehara signed a one-year, $4.25M contract with the Boston Red Sox where he proceeded to have the best season in his career. Aside from having an outstanding 1.09 ERA in 73 games, Uehara accomplished many other great feats.
His 0.565 WHIP set a record for the lowest WHIP of a pitcher with at least 50 innings pitched. During the regular season, Uehara came close to beating an MLB record when he retired 37 batters in a row and also struck out 38.1 percent of the batters he faced that season. Uehara was named the MVP of the 2013 ALCS after he appeared in five of the six games, getting one win and five saves. He also pitched in five of the six games of the 2013 World Series, recording two saves and not giving up any runs. One of Uehara’s most memorable moments was during game four of the 2013 World Series when he picked off pinch-runner Kolten Wong to even the series against the St. Louis Cardinals.
Uehara’s contract contained a vesting option, so Uehara came back for 2014. Uehara remained dominant for the first half of 2014 with a 1.65 ERA and 0.756 WHIP and even made his only All-Star Game appearance, but struggled in the second half of the season and was relieved of the position of closer and placed in the bullpen.
He had a 4.35 ERA and 1.258 WHIP in the second half of 2014, but his ERA for the full season was 2.52 and his WHIP was 0.917. The Red Sox signed Uehara to a two-year, $18M deal after 2014 where he continued to pitch well. In 2015 Uehara pitched well and was moved back into the role of closer after 14 games, but his season ended after he was injured after a ball hit him in the wrist on August 7th.
Uehara lost the closing job in the 2016 season after the Boston Red Sox acquired Craig Kimbrel. While Uehara’s WHIP was still a good 0.957, he struggled with a 3.45 ERA.
In 2017, Uehara signed a much smaller one-year, $6 million contract with the Chicago Cubs. This was Uehara’s worst season as a reliever and was almost as bad as his small stint as a starting pitcher. He played 49 games and finished the season with a 3.98 ERA and 1.163 WHIP. He was left off of the postseason roster and was not re-signed by the Cubs.
Since Uehara has stated that he plans to retire after the 2018 season, it would seem like a fair goodbye to the MLB if the Red Sox signed him. Uehara had his best season with the Red Sox and played with the team for four of his nine seasons. He also had a 2.19 ERA over the four seasons he played with the Red Sox and a 0.810 WHIP in those seasons.
Because he took a $6M deal with the Cubs last season and he plans to retire if he only gets minor league contracts, a one-year contract of $5 to $7 million would most likely get Uehara to sign with the team, and if he signs with the Red Sox it would be a fitting goodbye to the MLB.