DETROIT — Kenta Maeda sees a lot of the Old English “D” on jerseys and caps in Japan.
“That's a pretty cool-looking logo,” he said. “I think a lot of people in Japan are already wearing hats and jerseys not knowing it’s the Detroit Tigers, just for the looks.”
Maeda spoke from Japan through translator Daichi Sekizaki during a Zoom news conference Thursday night (Friday in Japan) after agreeing this week to a $24 million, two-year contract with Detroit.
A right-hander who turns 36 on April 11, Maeda spent the past three years with the Minnesota Twins. He was 6-8 with a 4.23 ERA in 20 starts and one relief appearance this year in his return from Tommy John surgery on Sept. 1, 2021.
“It was more like a gut feeling of mine to choose Detroit,” he said. “There’s a young core of very talented prospects up and rising, so as a pitcher on the opposing team, if I had to choose one team that I would not like to face, it’s Detroit.”
He's not that familiar with the city.
“The team hotel happens to be far away from the field, so I never got to really know the city of Detroit. I’ve only hung around the hotel area," Maeda said. "So I’ll be excited to explore what Detroit has to offer. But it seems like there’s a big Japanese community, which is a plus, with all the restaurants and grocery stores to go to, it’s helpful.”
Maeda will make $14 million next year and $10 million in 2025 under the two-year contract negotiated by agent Scott Boras.
“One scoop of Detroit is great but two scoops is a lot better,” Boras said. “He has a lot to offer to a core of a building team.”
Maeda will become the Tigers' third Japanese pitcher after Masao Kida in 1999 and 2000, and Hideo Nomo in 2000. He will wear No. 18, the same number he wore with the Twins, Dodgers and Hiroshima Toyo Carp. Maeda had his jersey number written into his Dodgers contract — the Tokyo Yomiuri Giants gave No. 18 to their ace and it has been worn in the major leagues by Daisuke Matsuzaka, Hisashi Iwakuma and Hiroki Kuroda.
Detroit's last World Series title was in 1984. The Tigers won AL pennants before falling short in 2006 and 2012. They haven't had a winning season since 2016 and haven't reached the playoffs since 2014.
“I want to bring a championship ring to Detroit,” Maeda said.
Maeda completed an eight-year contract he agreed to with the Dodgers that guaranteed $25 million and included $81.2 million in potential innings and roster bonuses.
“After the eight-year contract, I just wanted to see what my market value in MLB was,” he said.
Maeda regained velocity throughout the season as his arm strengthened in his return from elbow surgery and then a strained right triceps that sidelined him for about two months until late June. His fastball averaged 89.9 mph in April and 91.1 mph in September.
“It was a bit surprising to see how well I felt after an outing, coming off the IL,” he said. “Just cleaning up my mechanics, I think that really helped as well. So I’m not worried about my arm situation.”