With Shohei Ohtani off the board, the attention of the baseball world has turned to Japanese star Yoshinobu Yamamoto.
The 25-year-old is expected to command a massive contract as the top free-agent pitcher on the market, even ahead of two-time Cy Young winner Blake Snell. After he posted a sparkling 1.16 ERA across 171 innings for the Orix Buffaloes last season, it’s no surprise teams are lining up to add Yamamoto to their rotation.
As was the case with Ohtani, the contract offers will be significant, but only one team will actually come away satisfied. Yamamoto, meanwhile, won’t be short on options as he embarks on his MLB career.
Here’s a closer look at six potential landing spots for Yamamoto as he weighs his decision.
Yoshinobu Yamamoto landing spots
The Yankees have been at the forefront of the Yamamoto sweepstakes, according to multiple reports, meeting with the free agent as recently as Monday. SNY’s Andy Martino reported that New York was in a “solid position” ahead of the meeting.
For Yamamoto, joining the Yankees would mean teaming up with a former MVP in Aaron Judge, the reigning AL Cy Young winner in Gerrit Cole and one of the sport’s best young players in new acquisition Juan Soto. If Yamamoto values playing under the brightest of lights, New York is the place to be.
Despite their blockbuster deal for Soto, the Yankees still have plenty of work to do on their roster, and the starting rotation is the priority. With Michael King traded, Luis Severino gone and Frankie Montas a free agent after missing nearly all of 2023, the Yankees are thin on options behind Cole, Carlos Rodon and Nestor Cortes Jr.
Adding Yamamoto would give the Yankees a potentially dominant one-two punch with Cole atop the rotation, though one has to wonder whether a deal would impact the franchise’s chances of re-signing Soto long-term.
With Hideki Matsui and Masahiro Tanaka among the most beloved players in recent Yankees history, Yamamoto might see those two Japanese stars as models for what his New York experience could be like.
The Mets didn’t seriously pursue Ohtani despite Steve Cohen’s deep pockets, and they haven’t been as much of a factor so far this offseason as they were a year ago. One reason is the expectation that 2024 will be a transitional year, with championship contention unlikely. Some players don’t fit that long-term plan, but Yamamoto does. At just 25, Yamamoto would still be in his prime for several years once the Mets do position themselves as title contenders.
The Mets’ top starter entering 2024 is Kodai Senga, who had an excellent rookie year after coming over from Japan a year ago. Senga could give Yamamoto a sense of familiarity in a new country and form an impressive duo atop New York’s rotation.
The Mets haven’t been reluctant to spend when the fit is right, so it’s certainly possible they come through with the highest offer for Yamamoto.
The Dodgers just handed Ohtani $700 million in guaranteed money, but thanks to the two-time MVP’s decision to defer much of his contract, they still have money to play around with. Is there enough left over for another Japanese star?
The presence of Ohtani and the desire to play in a big market could certainly lure Yamamoto to Los Angeles if the financials make sense. It’s no secret the Dodgers could use pitching, with plenty of rotation uncertainty and Clayton Kershaw — who remains a free agent — set to miss the start of 2024.
The Giants missed out on Judge last offseason, saw a mega deal with Carlos Correa fall through and then missed on Ohtani this winter. Are they desperate enough to make Yamamoto an offer he can’t refuse?
San Francisco could use help up and down the roster after a middling 2023 season. Without any intimidating starters outside of Logan Webb, Yamamoto could be just the kind of talent the Giants need to put eyes back on the Bay Area after the Dodgers’ blockbuster move.
The Blue Jays were all set to spend big money on Ohtani. Could they redirect some of it toward Yamamoto?
Starting pitching wasn’t the issue for Toronto last season, even with Alek Manoah’s stunning regression. The Blue Jays could use another bat more than anything, but for a pitcher as young and talented as Yamamoto, there is little downside to making an aggressive pursuit.
After missing out on both Ohtani and Soto, it’s clear a franchise-changing hitter isn’t coming to Toronto this winter, even if Cody Bellinger is an option. If the Blue Jays can’t hit with some of the league’s best, why not load up on pitching?
The Red Sox have had a quiet offseason to this point, dealing Alex Verdugo and bringing in Tyler O’Neill to help fill the void, but there’s no doubt they are going to add starting pitching at some point. Will that come in the form of more cost-effective free agents, or is Yamamoto a realistic target? It might come down to what ownership is willing to spend after a few years spent prioritizing bargains over big names.
If playing with another Japanese player is something that matters to Yamamoto, which has been rumored, the Red Sox have Masataka Yoshida locked in for the next four seasons. Unlike some other potential landing spots, Yamamoto would also instantly have the chance to become Boston’s ace rather than pitching in the shadow of a star such as Cole.
Yoshinobu Yamamoto contract projection
Yamamoto could command a $300 million contract, according to the New York Post’s Jon Heyman. Any team that signs Yamamoto will also have to pay his posting fee, which could be in the $35 million range depending on how close to $300 million the deal winds up being.
Yamamoto was originally expected to land a deal in the $200-$225 million range, but with several suitors and a relatively thin free agent class beyond the top handful of players, the Japanese ace is set to take full advantage.
Gerrit Cole is the only pure pitcher in MLB history to receive a $300 million contract, having signed a nine-year, $324 million deal with the Yankees in 2019. It’s unknown if Yamamoto has any chance of breaking Cole’s record, but he’s four years younger than Cole was at the time that deal was signed.
Source : ESPN.com