One of the top free agents in the 2023-24 MLB offseason, Japanese right-hander Yoshinobu Yamamoto, was officially posted by the Orix Buffaloes of Nippon Professional Baseball. His posting window is officially open, and teams will have until 5:00 PM EST on January 4 to submit their offers to the Japanese phenom.
The 25-year-old starting pitcher is expected to set off a massive bidding war, which will likely exceed the $200 million mark. MLB Trade Rumors is projecting a nine-year, $225 million deal for Yamamoto. He has elite stuff and is perhaps the best starting pitcher outside of Shohei Ohtani (who is an alien and doesn't count as a starter, being a two-way) to come out of NPB since Masahiro Tanaka in 2014. That year, the Yankees signed Tanaka to a seven-year, $155 million deal.
Yamamoto won NPB's equivalent to the Cy Young Award in the Eiji Sawamura Award the last two seasons. He posted a 1.21 ERA while striking out 176 batters in 171 innings over 24 starts in 2023. Over his seven seasons with Orix, he held a phenomenal 26.43 percent strikeout rate, with a microscopic 5.9 percent walk rate and 1.03 percent home run rate. In the World Baseball Classic, the right-hander went 1-0 with a 2.45 ERA in two starts, while striking out 12 in 7 1/3 innings.
With that in mind, what team he ends up signing with will be interesting to watch. Let's look at the top five teams who have the best chance to end up with Yamamoto.
1. New York Yankees
There's just something about this offseason that has that Brian Cashman and Hal Steinbrenner saying "screw it" feeling. Cashman certainly didn't do himself or the Yankees any favors by saying that injuries are a "part of Giancarlo Stanton's game". But I don't think it will matter much in the long run. He isn't entirely wrong, but the choice of words should never come out of the mouth of a general manager, no matter the situation. It could be a factor in Yamamoto's decision, but money talks.
After missing the postseason for the first time since 2016, this feels like an offseason that the Yankees break the bank to throw money at the problem. They also missed the playoffs in 2013 and went out and signed Tanaka. After missing the playoffs in 2008, they went crazy. While the Yankees need offense as much or more than they need pitching, there hasn't been anyone backing up Gerrit Cole as the number two. Yamamoto has the makings of a pitcher who can fill that void, and his youth is very appealing. Luis Severino didn't work out after being hyped up as a prospect and young starter. Carlos Rodon had a disastrous season and is over the age 30 mark.
Behind him, there isn't anyone else who would fit that number two role. Clarke Schmidt has been solid, but he's more of a back-end or long-relief guy, which Michael King and Nestor Cortes are as well. The Bombers began embracing the youth ("Yutes") movement this past season and need to do that with the rotation as well. They don't have anyone in the system who can step right into the rotation, so signing Yamamoto would be a much-needed boost.
2. New York Mets
Did someone say "throw money at the problem"? Yeah, the Mets definitely like to do that, too. They tried to do it last year, with Steve Cohen emptying his pockets for Justin Verlander, Jose Quintana, fellow NPB pitcher Kodai Senga, and others. But next to "didn't work out" in the dictionary, you will find the New York Metropolitans. In other words, the Mets will always find a way to "Met". Max Scherzer, who the Mets signed in the 2022 offseason, ended up winning the World Series with the Texas Rangers alongside fellow former Met Jacob DeGrom. Verlander was traded back to the Houston Astros and found some of his old magic after sucking it up for the Mets before they fell in an ALCS game seven against Texas.
Now, the Mets can throw money at Yamamoto and have a good chance of it working out. They also have Senga to help in the recruiting process, although Billy Eppler is no longer after resigning as GM in October. The Mets bolstered their farm system with the Scherzer and Verlander trades but left a lot of question marks in their rotation. Behind Senga and Quintana, there isn't much to scoff at. Senga and Yamamoto would create an incredible 1-2 punch.
3. San Francisco Giants
Rumors have been swirling, which was also the case when Shohei Ohtani got posted, that Yamamoto might prefer the West Coast. Whether true or not, the Giants are one of the teams in the mix for the starter. San Francisco's president of baseball operations, Farhan Zaidi, is reportedly ready to do whatever it takes to sign either Yamamoto or Ohtani this offseason. Given that this will be his final year under contract with the team, he has to do big things to improve the club. Zaidi showed he is serious about their pursuit when he flew to Japan to watch Yamamoto pitch. Vibes in the Bay Area are at an all-time low right now, and the Giants have come up empty-handed in recent pursuits of big-name free agents. Now is the time for them to swing for the fences and blast one out of the park like juiced-up Barry Bonds.
4. Los Angeles Dodgers
Well, now that we are on the West Coast, let's head down the Pacific Coast Highway to Los Angeles, where the Dodgers reside. The Dodgers lack many effective starters, which is not something they've been accustomed to as of late. They have to snag a frontline starter or two this offseason, and Yamamoto would be at the top of their rotation. After getting swept by the Diamondbacks in the NLDS, there is no messing around for the Dodgers as they have stared postseason disappointment in the face the last few years. A big reason for the embarrassment this postseason was the lack of pitching, with Clayton Kershaw showing his true postseason form. Outside of the 2020 Covid championship, the Dodgers have choked away any chance at a World Series for many years. Maybe you can exclude 2017 because of, you know, but even without the Astros cheating, I don't know if the Dodgers would have won. Anyway, the Dodgers need a clear ace, and they have what it takes to pick up Yamamoto.
5. Chicago Cubs
Finally, the fifth and final team on this list is a toss-up between several teams. That list includes the Red Sox, Braves, Cubs, Phillies and others. Chicago is a big market that Yamamoto is looking for, the third-biggest market in MLB. The Cubs have never handed out a $200 million contract, but they have come close with $184 million to Jason Heyward in 2015 and $177 million to Dansby Swanson last offseason. Their third-largest contract by total value was to Jon Lester, who was also their largest average annual value (AAV) at $25.8 million. So, they are certainly not afraid to give out money, and for a guy like Yamamota, they should be willing to pass the $200 million mark. Giving Justin Steele a legitimate No. 2 behind Justin Steele would do wonders for the rotation.
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