Over the past decade there have been several star pitchers from Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB) who made the jump to MLB. That is expected to continue this offseason when the Orix Buffaloes post their ace, Yoshinobu Yamamoto.
Yamamoto arguably has been the best pitcher in Japan over the last few seasons and is likely on his way to a third consecutive Eiji Sawamura Award — NPB’s equivalent of the Cy Young.
The right-hander went 17-6 with a 1.16 ERA, 0.86 WHIP and 9.3 strikeouts per nine in 171 innings over 24 games, and helped lead the Buffaloes to the Japan Series for the third straight year.
Once the Buffaloes post Yamamoto at the end of the 2023 season, all 30 MLB teams will be permitted to negotiate with him. However, there is a belief the 25-year-old wants to play in a big market, via Will Sammon of The Athletic:
Similar to how Senga felt last offseason, Yamamoto covets the opportunity to play in a large market, league sources say.
Kodai Senga is the most recent notable pitcher from Japan to make the jump to MLB as he joined the New York Mets on a five-year, $75 million contract last offseason.
Prior to that, Shohei Ohtani and Kenta Maeda signed with the Los Angeles Angels and Los Angeles Dodgers, respectively. Both Ohtani and Maeda are set to reach free agency this offseason.
The Dodgers will be aggressive in their search for starting pitching and recently scouted one of Yamamoto’s starts. They are also among the early favorites to sign Ohtani, but the two-way star won’t pitch next season after undergoing elbow surgery.
Other notable free-agent starting pitchers include Lucas Giolito, Sonny Gray, Clayton Kershaw, Jordan Montgomery, Aaron Nola and Blake Snell.
Yoshinobu Yamamoto profile
Yamamoto projects as an ace in MLB with a fastball that sits in the mid-to-upper-90s, and an above-average cutter, splitter and curveball. Yamamoto made his professional debut in 2017 and has earned a slew of accolades since then.
The team that signs Yamamoto will need to pay the Buffaloes a fee that is equal to 20% of the contract’s first $25 million, 17.5% of the next $25 million and 15% of any additional dollars.
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