In January of 2006, Andrew Friedman made one of his first moves as general manager, signing Japanese reliever Shinji Mori. Friedman has made many moves that have acquired key pieces in the Rays turnaround and continued success. He aimed for another acquisition in that vein in Mori. But matters certainly did not go as planned.
Mori, then 31 years old, was a 6’2″, 194 right-hander relief pitcher who never exactly dominated in Japan, posting a 3.39 ERA and 50 saves in 9 seasons with the Seibu Lions beginning at age 22, but he did strike out a nice 10.4 batters per 9 innings, although he did walk 3.8 per 9. He threw a variety of pitches, but was best known for his fastball and his forkball with darting downward movement. The Rays paid a 1 million dollar posting fee to get the right to negotiate with Mori, out-bidding the Red Sox and Indians, and then signed him to a two-year deal worth 1.3 million dollars with options for two more years. Here’s what Friedman had to say after the signing.
“Shinji Mori is a talented reliever who will add depth to our bullpen. He’s had a successful career in Japan, and we look forward to his continued success with the Devil Rays. This is the organization’s first agreement with a player from the Japanese Leagues, and we hope this will lead to more opportunities in Asia.”
Mori arrived at spring training for 2006 and the Devil Rays were impressed by his pitching, especially his forkball. But the problem with Mori was that he had a whip in his delivery, a hard snapping of his wrist, in order to get the best movement on his forkball. The D-Rays hoped that he could last in relief stints- after all, he had in Japan. That was quickly proved to not be the case. Just days into spring training, before he could make an official appearance, Mori was sidelined with shoulder soreness. When he finally got back on the mound, he threw another pitch and something went wrong again in his shoulder. Mori required labrum surgery in his shoulder that sidelined him for the entire season. It didn’t take long for Friedman and the Rays to see that they had made a mistake.
When Mori could not return in spring training in 2007, the Devil Rays released him before re-signing him to a minor league contract. But Mori’s shoulder recovery was never completed as he retired from baseball having not thrown a single regular season professional pitch in America. He never played professionally again.
Look at the price the Rays paid to get Mori: just 2.3 million dollars guaranteed (counting the posting fee) over two years. Even for the Rays, that’s not a lot of money. They took a shot, hoping to get a good middle relief option who maybe could pitch in the late innings. It didn’t work out. The Rays take calculated gambles and most of them don’t work. But as long as they are low-risk, it doesn’t matter. The failures are forgotten, but the successes are remembered for a long time. Shinji Mori did not work out as a Tampa Bay Ray. But his signing, one of the first under Andrew Friedman, showed us that the Rays were not going to throw money at washed-up free agents hoping they could by some miracle found something of their former selves. They were going to take the gambles with low risk and high rewards, and some of them would work out. This one did not, but we have seen over the years all the ones that did.