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Free Agent Profile: Yoshinobu Yamamoto finished his NPB career with one of the best starts in Japan Series history

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Ryley Delaney
5 months ago
Yoshinobu Yamamoto might be the most exciting pitcher ever to come out of Japan. 
We’re looking at some free agents that the Blue Jays may be interested in when the signing period opens on Monday. In this article, we’ll look at our first pitcher, the ace of the Orix Buffaloes who will be headed overseas to sign with a Major League club this winter. 

Yoshinobu Yamamoto’s 2023:

Yamamoto won his third consecutive Eiji Sawamura Award this season, which is essentially the Cy Young for Nippon Professional Baseball, the top league in Japan. Other winners from recent memory include Yu Darvish (2007), Masahiro Tanaka (2011, 2013), and Kenta Maeda (2010, 2015). Yamamoto is one of just five pitchers to win the award three times in a career and he’s only the second to do so in three consecutive years.
He posted a 1.21 ERA across 164 innings for the Buffaloes in 2023 while striking out 169 batters and walking 28. He ultimately posted a 70-29 record across seven NPB seasons with a sparkling 1.82 ERA.
The righty finished off his career in Japan with a bang, as he put up one of the most impressive starts in Japan Series history for the Buffaloes on Friday. He’ll be one of the best free-agent pitchers available, if not the best.

What will Yoshinobu Yamamoto’s contract be like:

In the past few articles in this series, we’ve looked at Jim Bowden’s predictions from his The Athletic article. We’ll do the same here, as well as look at other Japanese pitchers who have come to the MLB in recent seasons.
Bowden predicts that Yamamoto will earn a seven-year, $211,000,000. If Yamamoto signs a deal similar to this, it would be the largest first contract for an NPB player coming to MLB, beating out Masahiro Tanaka’s $140 million deal with the New York Yankees in 2014.
Yoshinobu Yamamoto certainly raised eyebrows in the World Baseball Classic in March, but since then his value has skyrocketed; teams now view him as a No. 1 or No. 2 starter, someone who could step into any rotation and record double-digit wins and an ERA below 3.00. He 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. Yamamoto won the pitching triple crown (ERA, strikeouts and wins) in Japan in each of the past two seasons. This year for Orix, he went 16-6 in 23 starts with a 1.21 ERA, the lowest ERA of his career in a full season. He’s special and going to be paid like it.
Last season, Kodai Senga signed with the New York Mets for five years for $75 million. He was 29 years old at the time and pitched to a 1.94 ERA in 144 innings in the NPB before signing with the Mets. Yamamoto has a better career ERA than Senga’s best season, so a record-setting deal in free agency is well deserved.

Is Yoshinobu Yamamoto a fit for the Blue Jays:

The Blue Jays starting rotation for 2024 is nearly set in stone, save for the fifth pitcher at the back. Alek Manoah’s situation is odd, to say the least, and the only internal options are Ricky Tiedemann and Bowden Francis, so this is a spot the team could look to improve.
Adding Yamamoto would make an already great rotation even better, but I’d be willing to bet that the Jays look to use the money on bats to improve a lineup that was oddly devoid of power in 2023. Perhaps they look to sign a starting pitcher to add to their rotation’s depth, just not one of Yamamoto’s calibre because the team has greater needs elsewhere on the roster.

As always, you can follow me on Twitter, Instagram, and Threads @Brennan_L_D.

Previously…


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