Originally posted on Baseball Prospectus  |  Last updated 2/6/12

Brad Penny is taking his talents to Japan to play for the Softbank Hawks. But that is not the real story here—the real story is that the Hawks will pay Penny $4 million in 2012, and offer him the potential to earn $3.5 million more in incentives. The deal also carries a $4.5 million mutual option for 2013.

By major-league standards, Penny has become a shadow of his former self. In 31 starts last season, he struck out a paltry 74 batters in 181 2/3 innings and walked 62. His 9.2 K/PA was dead last among qualifying starters. Penny turns 34 in May and is now purely a contact pitcher with the ability to eat innings, but without the ability to do so productively. He has not been worth more than 1.0 WARP since 2007.

One of several veterans still on the free-agent market, Penny likely would have had to settle for a minor-league contract and a shot to stick as a number-five starter or swingman; if the Hawks had not come calling, that is. Penny was paid $3 million by the Tigers last season, and while a small rebound may be in the offing, he cannot suddenly turn back the clock five years.

It is hard to evaluate Penny’s worth in the Nippon Professional Baseball League, but with the level of play said to be roughly equal to Triple-A, a fair improvement in his performance can be expected. Still, it is interesting that the Hawks were willing to pay Penny more—perhaps many times more—than any stateside team.

By heading to Fukuoka, Penny will earn roughly as much in 2012 as Japanese import Tsuyoshi Wada, who signed a two-year, $8.15 million deal with the Orioles back in December. If there is a considerably greater market for replacement-level innings eaters is in Japan, it will be interesting to see if those who are not fortunate enough to score two-year deals from Ned Colletti follow in Penny’s footsteps over the coming years. 

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