MLB free agency is officially open. And one of the sport’s biggest names has not thrown a pitch in the majors.
Orix Buffaloes ace Yoshinobu Yamamoto is officially on the way to the majors after he was posted Monday. He will now have a set period of time to sign with an MLB team.
Yamamoto is an exceptional hurler. He is 25 years old, and already has won the Eiji Sawamura Award, Nippon Professional Baseball’s equivalent of the Cy Young, three times.
In seven seasons in NPB, Yamamoto has a 1.82 ERA across 897 innings with 922 strikeouts and a WHIP of just .935. Last year, he posted an impressive 1.16 ERA in 171 innings with 176 strikeouts, 28 walks and only 119 hits allowed.
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Outside of Shohei Ohtani, no player in MLB free agency is expected to be a higher-valued target, particularly for his combination of age and exceptional upside. How will he eventually land with a team? Here’s what you need to know.
Yoshinobu Yamamoto posting process
Yamamoto was posted Monday, meaning his window to sign with MLB teams will officially open Tuesday. There will only be a 45-day window to ink Yamamoto to a deal, running until 5 p.m. ET Jan. 4. However, it is highly unlikely he’ll return to the Buffaloes.
There is a lot that goes into the posting process. The idea behind it is to prevent MLB teams from signing away Japanese players without compensation, and to prevent Japanese teams from sending players to North America who wish to stay in Japan.
The process begins with a player’s request to be posted. That team can then accept or reject the player’s request, and a rejection would keep that player with the team. If accepted, he would be posted. In this case, Yamamoto’s request to be posted has been accepted.
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Next, comes the negotiating process. Yamamoto will meet with MLB teams and start to receive bids. But unlike typical free agents, there is a wrinkle that will come with any offer he receives: the release fee.
Because NPB teams post the players, they are entitled to receiving a release fee that will provide them with a chunk of money for their player who is leaving. That release fee has several different outcomes, per MLB.com:
- For MLB contracts of $25 million or less, the fee is 20 percent of the total contract.
- For MLB contracts between $25,000,001 and $50 million, the fee is 20 percent of first $25 million plus 17.5 percent of the remaining value exceeding $25 million.
- For MLB contracts of $50,000,001 or more, the release fee is 20 percent of first $25 million plus 17.5 percent of next $25 million plus 15 percent of remaining value exceeding $50 million.
- For minor league contracts, the release fee is 25 percent of the signing bonus. There is also a supplemental fee owed if the contract contains MLB terms and the player is added to the active roster.
- Posted players with contracts that contain bonuses, salary escalators or options can also lead to supplemental fees of 15 percent of any bonus or salary escalator earned by the player and/or 15 percent of any option that is exercised.
For example, if a player receives a $100 million contract, his NPB team would receive $16.9 million because it is $5 million for the first $25 million, $4.4 million for the second $25 million and $7.5 million for the last $50 million.
Many have expected Yamamoto to receive a contract of at least $200 million. If he receives a contract that reaches $200 million, that would wind up being $31.9 million going back to the Buffaloes.
Yoshinobu Yamamoto agent
Yamamoto is represented by the Wasserman agency, with SNY reporting in September that the belief is that Joel Wolfe of Wasserman is his agent.
Wolfe has represented a number of notable MLB players, including last year’s top Japanese free agent in Kodai Senga, who signed at five years, $75 million with the Mets, and Yankees slugger Giancarlo Stanton, for whom he helped land a 13-year, $325 million extension, which at the time was the largest in MLB history.
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Yoshinobu Yamamoto landing spots
Just about every team in baseball should have interest in signing Yamamoto and could need him. He’s a rare pitcher capable of winning Cy Youngs as soon as he signs a deal, and since he’s only 25, a contract of seven to eight years would cover most of his prime years.
Here are five teams that should be among the top options to sign Yamamoto:
Everyone knew going into the 2023 season that pitching was going to be the Cardinals’ Achilles’ heel. That wound up being an understatement, as the staff combined for a 4.83 ERA with several aging starters who lacked swing-and-miss stuff and struggled to consistently get outs.
The Cardinals have already missed out on Aaron Nola, believed to be one of their top targets. There aren’t many ace-type arms left on the market, and St. Louis could desperately need a pitcher to anchor the rotation. Yamamoto immediately slots in as the Opening Day starter and potential playoff Game 1 starter if St. Louis can turn things around in a wide-open NL Central.
The Cubs melted down in September to fall out of playoff contention, and like the Cardinals, they could use pitching. Chicago will see All-Star Marcus Stroman test free agency, and could use a starter with better swing-and-miss stuff at the top of a rotation that features Justin Steele and Kyle Hendricks.
Chicago has the money to make a move. It showed that by making Craig Counsell the highest-paid manager in baseball. Where Yamamoto stands in the priorities of Cody Bellinger and a darkhorse run at Shohei Ohtani could be the biggest deciding factor as to how hard the Cubs will pursue this potential ace.
San Francisco has taken its swings at big free agents in recent years and come up empty. It nearly landed
Arson Aaron Judge. It had a contract in place for Carlos Correa. It landed neither. The Giants are expected to be in the Ohtani sweepstakes, but will they land him? If the Dodgers, the clear frontrunners, sign Ohtani, then that could open the door for the Giants to make a compelling offer for Yamamoto.
There are rumors that Yamamoto has a preference for West Coast teams. If that’s the case, the Giants could be an appealing destination as an NL West team willing to spend to win and that has done well in recent years with pitchers like Logan Webb, Kevin Gausman and Carlos Rodon.
New York tried to have a veteran starting staff led by Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander in 2023. The team struggled, though largely not at the fault of the two highly paid starters. After trading both at the deadline, owner Steve Cohen’s squad now has some holes in the rotation and is all but certainly looking for a quick turnaround with one of baseball’s most expensive rosters.
The Mets already signed Senga, who is represented by Wasserman, last year, and should be in a position to make a strong bid for Yamamoto this offseason, particularly as many are counting them as potentially unlikely teams for Ohtani. Cohen knows how to go all out, and might be ready to roll out the red carpet for Yamamoto.
The Yankees need to prove they’re the Yankees of old, willing to outspend everyone to win. They’re in a bit of a dire state, with several aging contracts and a number of big holes on the roster. One area that needs to be addressed is the rotation, where the production after Cy Young winner Gerrit Cole was a major concern in 2023.
New York is almost certainly going to be connected to Ohtani, but if it misses out, it probably has to make another big splash to try and keep this team in the mix of the American League. Signing Yamamoto to create a one-two punch of Cole and Yamamoto would be a big step, especially if Rodon can step up after a dismal 2023.