Although the MLB free agent market is mostly waiting on Shohei Ohtani’s decision before it really starts to heat up, the sweepstakes for Yoshinobu Yamamoto are underway.
Yamamoto has just over one month to sign with a club after he was posted by the Orix Buffaloes of Nippon Professional Baseball last week, which gave him a 45-day window to negotiate and sign a contract.
Yamamoto is widely considered the second-best free agent available as he comes over from Japan at just 25-years-old after winning three consecutive Eiji Sawamura Awards, which is the NPB’s equivalent of MLB’s Cy Young.
Yamamoto was in Los Angeles last week, which is where his agency resides, but he is returning home to Japan where he will begin meeting with teams virtually.
Although he has no shortage of suitors, the Los Angeles Dodgers may have an edge for his services. According to David Vassegh of AM 570 L.A. Sports Radio, Yamamoto is a Dodgers fan who is intrigued by the possibility of pitching for them:
“My understanding is he is a big Dodger fan and would love to pitch for the Dodgers. We’ll see whether or not the dollars add up to his fandom, but Yamamoto has his eyes on the Dodgers.”
The Dodgers do also benefit from previous reports saying Yamamoto prefers to pitch for a big-market team and he also has a preference for the West Coast. With Yamamoto being a Dodgers fan as well, it’s hard to not consider the team a perfect fit.
The Dodgers are in desperate need of starting pitching this offseason, and specifically an ace to lead their rotation. Both Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman and general manager Brandon Gomes indicated the team will be aggressive in working to improve their staff.
Although it makes a lot of sense for both sides to get a deal done, they will still have to contend with other bidders, including the San Francisco Giants, St. Louis Cardinals, New York Mets, New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox and likely several other teams, so the largest contract may ultimately win out.
The right-hander went 17-6 with a 1.21 ERA, 0.86 WHIP and 176 strikeouts in 24 games for Orix this year. Aside from his eye-catching numbers, Yamamoto is loved by both scouts utilizing the eye test and analytics departments utilizing computer models.
His next contract is expected to exceed $200 million, and it would not be surprising to see it reach near $300 million due to his ability, age and list of interested teams. Any long-term deal would also likely include opt-outs.
The deadline for Yamamoto to sign with a team is 2 p.m. PT on January 4, 2024.
Yoshinobu Yamamoto open to Japanese teammate
Traditionally, some Japanese players have preferred to be the lone Japanese star on an MLB team. However, Yamamoto’s agent said his the pitcher is open to playing on a team with other Japanese stars.
For the Dodgers, that is good news as they make a push toward signing Ohtani as well. It also opens up his options to include the Red Sox, Chicago Cubs and Mets.
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