MLB’s next big Japanese star has just hit the market.
Yoshinobu Yamamoto, a highly regarded 25-year-old starting pitcher, was posted by the Orix Buffaloes of Nippon Professional Baseball on Monday.
Yamamoto, a right-hander, is expected to set off a bidding war that could see some of baseball’s richest franchises paying more than $200 million for his services.
Japanese right-hander Yoshinobu Yamamoto has been posted and Major League Clubs have been notified. The window begins at 8 a.m. ET tomorrow. The signing club must submit terms no later than 5 p.m. Eastern Time on January 4, 2024.
— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) November 20, 2023
Here’s what you need to know:
Why he’s so coveted
Yamamoto may be the best starting pitcher to leave Japan since Masahiro Tanaka in 2014. Yamamoto has won the Eiji Sawamura Award — NPB’s equivalent to the Cy Young Award — the last two seasons. In 2023, he went 16-6 with a 1.21 ERA in 24 starts, striking out 176 batters in 171 innings. In the World Baseball Classic last year, Yamamoto went 1-0 with a 2.45 ERA in two starts, striking out 12 in 7 1/3 innings.
Though he’s just 5-foot-10 and approximately 175 pounds, his stuff is considered elite. According to The Athletic’s Jim Bowden, Yamamoto “really knows how to pitch by adding and subtracting and he has special command in and out of the strike zone. He’s a competitor with savvy, feel and poise. His fastball lives in the mid-to-high 90s with a wipeout split-finger and a plus curveball as part of his five-pitch mix. He moves the ball west to east and north to south extremely well, too.”
It’s rare for a pitcher his age to reach free agency in any fashion, and the team that locks him up could have a front-end rotation option into the next decade.
Yamamoto will officially enter free agency at 8 a.m. Tuesday morning and teams will have 45 days to vie for his services. His posting period ends at 5 p.m. Eastern Time on Jan. 4, according to The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal.
Yamamoto’s deal will also be subject to a posting fee, or essentially a tax that will be given to Orix. Since Yamamoto is expected to command a deal well into the nine figures, the team that signs him will pay Orix “20 percent of the first $25 million plus 17.5 percent of the next $25 million plus 15 percent of the total guaranteed value exceeding $50 million,” according to MLB.com.
With high-level starting pitching always difficult to come by in the majors, just about any team with the money to consider signing Yamamoto will likely give it a shot. But some of the teams most often linked to Yamamoto have been the New York Yankees, New York Mets, Boston Red Sox, Chicago Cubs, Los Angeles Dodgers, St. Louis Cardinals, San Francisco Giants and Texas Rangers.
Bowden predicts that it could cost a team as much as $211 million over seven years to secure Yamamoto. Bowden placed Yamamoto at No. 2 on his list of top free agents for this offseason, behind only two-way star Shohei Ohtani. In 2014, the Yankees gave righty Masahiro Tanaka a seven-year, $155-million deal. Last season, the Mets gave righty Kodai Senga a five-year, $75-million contract while Boston handed left fielder Masataka Yoshida a five-year, $90-million deal.
Yamamoto is repped by Wasserman, which negotiated Senga’s deal with the Mets.
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(Top photo: Megan Briggs / Getty Images)