Ben Cherington: Koji Uehara Signing ‘Important First Step’ For Red Sox

Koji UeharaThe Boston Red Sox wasted no time in rolling up their sleeves this offseason.

The Red Sox on Thursday re-signed closer Koji Uehara to a two-year contract reportedly worth $18 million. The move, which was announced just hours after Uehara officially became a free agent, signaled the first major transaction of what figures to be a very active offseason for Boston.

“We certainly won’t stop. There may be other things we look to do in the bullpen,” Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington said during a conference call Thursday. “But this is certainly an important first step, not just for the bullpen but really for our offseason in general. I feel very good about the ninth inning when he’s pitching out there with a lead. As you guys know, it was a priority for us to retain him.”

The Red Sox weren’t shy about their desire to re-sign Uehara. Both Cherington and manager John Farrell made it abundantly clear down the stretch they wanted to bring back the right-hander in 2015. The interest was unsurprising given Uehara’s success since joining the Red Sox before the 2013 season, but there obviously were questions about whether Boston ultimately might backtrack given the reliever’s late-season struggles, age (he’ll turn 40 before Opening Day) and recent workload.

“We felt very comfortable really with where he was and where he will be going forward, both from a health and performance standpoint,” Cherington said of the club’s evaluation of Uehara. “I felt like we, on a performance end, identified some things that led to the brief period of struggles, and obviously he came back and threw well over his last two or three outings. From a health standpoint, he had a little low back issue at the end of the year, but that was resolved and (is) not a real concern going forward.”

Uehara posted a 1.09 ERA, a 0.57 WHIP and an 11.22 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 73 regular-season appearances spanning 74 1/3 innings in 2013. He continued his domination in the postseason as the Red Sox marched their way to a World Series title.

The Japanese hurler endured a rough six-appearance stretch in late August/early September this season but still finished with a 2.52 ERA, 0.92 WHIP and a 10.00 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Uehara had the lowest WHIP (0.73) and highest strikeout-to-walk ratio (10.7) of any major league reliever over the last two seasons.

“We just were able to look at the body of work and obviously he’s been an elite performer out of the bullpen for us for two seasons and a critical part of our bullpen,” Cherington said.

The Red Sox’s confidence in Uehara is apparent based on their willingness to dish out a two-year contract. The move could be very rewarding, though, especially since they’re reportedly paying less than $3 million more than it would have cost to retain Uehara on a qualifying offer but with one more year of team control.

“With any player, you’ve got to look at all the variables and all the possible factors and the certain risk factors,” Cherington said. “In this particular case, we feel comfortable obviously with at two-year commitment, and that’s really driven by his remarkable consistency in his performance, not just with us but prior to him being with the Red Sox.”

The Red Sox’s hands officially are dirty. There’s still work to be done, but some heavy lifting already has been taken care of.

Photo via Anthony Gruppuso/USA TODAY Sports Images

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