The Brewers have agreed to terms with veteran reliever Takashi Saito on a one-year contract, adding yet another new arm to a pitching staff that has undergone a complete overhaul since the calendar turned to December.
Saito’s base salary will be less than $2 million but he can earn bonuses for games finished to push his earnings close to the $3.2 million Saito pocketed from the Braves in 2010, when the right-hander posted a 2.83 ERA in 56 games. He will be 41 by Opening Day.
The Brewers offices are closed this week for the holiday, so the club will not make an official announcement about Saito until next week. But a baseball source with knowledge of the deal confirmed it Monday, after the news started breaking in Japan.
“He pitched a lot of eighth innings for the Braves, setting-up Billy Wagner, and [the Brewers] liked that about him,” the source said. “He’s almost a Solomon Torres-type, the kind of guy with experience in the late innings who could step in and save a game when you have three or four save opportunities in a row. Solomon was probably a little more of a workhorse, but [Saito] has the same experience.”
Torres pitched for the Brewers in 2008 and eventually took over closer duties from Eric Gagne, helping the Brewers win the National League Wild Card.
Saito has pitched the past five years in the U.S. Major Leagues after beginning his career in Japan and has a 2.19 ERA, 84 saves and a 1.022 WHIP (walks plus hits per inning pitched) in 292 appearances since the move. He’s pitched for the Dodgers, Red Sox and Braves.
In Milwaukee, Saito will join a late-inning bullpen mix that includes fellow right-handed veteran LaTroy Hawkins and two young pitchers, second-year closer John Axford and left-hander Zach Braddock. Assuming Saito stays healthy, the Brewers could bump right-hander Kameron Loe to more of a seventh-inning role along with recently-added right-hander Sean Green. Left-hander Manny Parra is expected to fill another bullpen slot.
If any of those pitchers experiences a setback before Opening Day, the Brewers will have right-handers Brandon Kintzler, Mike McClendon, Justin James and Rule 5 Draft pick Pat Egan all vying for big-league bullpen jobs in Spring Training, plus left-hander Mitch Stetter and nonroster invitee Mark DiFelice, a righty working his way back from a 2010 season lost to shoulder surgery.
“There will be some competition,” the source said.
When Saito’s contract is finalized, the Brewers’ 40-man roster will be full. His signing capped a busy December that began with the team trading for Blue Jays right-hander Shaun Marcum and also included a blockbuster trade for Royals righty and ’09 American League Cy Young Award winner Zack Greinke and the much less-heralded addition of former Mets reliever Green.
Saito is represented by CAA Sports, the same agency that has Greinke and Brewers All-Star outfielders Ryan Braun and Corey Hart.