Tomoyuki Sugano went 14-2 with a 1.97 ERA last season as a starter for the Yomiuri Giants. Sugano faced a U.S. team loaded with stars during the 2017 World Baseball Classic semifinals, and did not allow an earned run over six innings. AP Photo/Toru Takahashi

It’s the spending season. People are checking their budgets to see what kind of gifts they can bring to the people on their list in this strange 2020 holiday season.

Many of us have had our budgets affected by the coronavirus pandemic. We might have less to spend, and have to make tougher decisions as we shop online.

The Boston Red Sox have a pretty good idea what they can spend. By most accounts they are about $40 million under baseball’s competitive balance tax threshold. That’s after Monday’s signing of outfielder Hunter Renfroe for a reported $3.1 million with another $600,000 in incentives.

Chief Baseball Officer Chaim Bloom further solidified that number when he negotiated deals with five of the six Red Sox players eligible for arbitration.  The only player in that group unsigned is Rafael Devers, and there’s still time to work something out with him.

Bloom knows what he has to spend. How much of it will he use to bolster the pitching staff before spring training?

One intriguing pitcher on the market is Tomoyuki Sugano of the Yomiuri Giants in Japan. The 31-year old right-hander is coming off a 14-2 season with the Giants in which he posted a 1.97 ERA. In his eight-year career he has struck out eight batters (while walking only 1.8) per nine innings.  He throws in the mid-90s and is said to have elite control.

Sugano won’t overpower hitters, but he will keep them off balance. He’s projected to be a middle-of-the-rotation major league pitcher, but might be a little higher than that on a Red Sox staff waiting for Chris Sale to return.

In 2017, Sugano faced Team USA in the World Baseball Classic semifinals. He didn’t give up an earned run over six innings of work while facing a lineup loaded with stars like Christian Yelich, Nolan Arenado, Buster Posey and Giancarlo Stanton. He struck out six and only needed to throw 81 pitches. The U.S. squad won the game when it got to the Japan bullpen late, but Sugano won the praise of his opponents.

“He’s a big league pitcher,” said USA manager Jim Leyland after the game. “He’s good.”

He’s also the type of pitcher the Red Sox need. And he won’t cost them a prospect in return.  Because of the impact of the pandemic this season he will probably see his salary tamped down a bit. And the team that wins the bidding will have to pay a posting fee to the Giants. That could be some $5 million in addition to his contract.

That’s a decent chuck of change, but it’s a fee that doesn’t go against the competitive balance tax. And that’s an important distinction for Boston.

We’ll know by Jan. 7, when the bidding period ends, whether Sugano will follow in the footsteps of Daisuke Matsuzaka and come directly from Nippon Professional Baseball to Fenway Park. If he does, the Sox can then add a complimentary arm or two on the back end of the rotation. Rich Hill and Corey Kluber are two veterans that should be cost-effective and helpful.

The Sox could start the season with a rotation including Eduardo Rodriguez, Nathan Eovaldi, Sugano, Nick Pivetta and Tanner Houck. Chris Sale will jump in when he returns from Tommy John surgery midseason. Garrett Whitlock, the former top Yankee prospect coming back from surgery and claimed in last week’s Rule 5 Draft, could fill the Brian Johnson swingman role as a long reliever/spot starter. Connor Seabold might be a late-season option out of the minors.

Bloom would still have plenty of money available to add another arm to this mix. Taijuan Walker should be a relatively low-cost option with big upside. Jake Odorizzi might decide to take a one-year “pillow contract.”

On Monday Bloom wouldn’t say much about Sugano — or any other pitcher he could be talking to — other than to say he was a good pitcher with good stuff.

Which makes him exactly the type of player the Red Sox need to be signing this offseason.

Lewiston native Tom Caron is a studio host for Red Sox broadcasts on NESN.


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