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The Chase for Japanese Star May End With a Massive Deal. Sound Familiar?

  • At least seven teams are in active pursuit.
  • The star Japanese pitcher is expected to sign a contract worth at least $300 million.
Yukihito Taguchi-USA TODAY Sports

The next Japanese superstar is now on the MLB player market, and in some respects he’s driving an even bigger frenzy among suitors than Shohei Ohtani did.

With the record-setting $700 million deal between Ohtani and the Los Angeles Dodgers now finalized, many teams are turning their attention to Yoshinobu Yamamoto, a 25-year-old pitcher who has starred in Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball and who was posted last month for entry to MLB. 

More than four years younger than Ohtani – and, crucially, not carrying the same serious injury history as his countryman – Yamamoto is arguably a better value, and that’s reflected in his pursuit by a larger number of clubs. This past summer, Ohtani tore his ulnar collateral ligament for the second time in five years and had corrective surgery.

While Ohtani’s free agency largely centered on four main candidates, Yamamoto has been linked in various reports to the New York Yankees and Mets, the Dodgers, Philadelphia Phillies, San Francisco Giants, Boston Red Sox, and Toronto Blue Jays. Yamamoto is expected to receive a contract worth at least $300 million, a deal that even after Ohtani’s blockbuster agreement will still rank no lower than eighth in MLB history. Such a deal would also yield a posting fee of nearly $50 million to Yamamoto’s Japanese club, the Orix Buffaloes.

Pulling Out All of the Stops

Because of that significant projected financial outlay, the Yamamoto chase has drawn the active participation of multiple team owners. Mets owner Steve Cohen hosted a dinner on Saturday at his Connecticut home for Yamamoto and his representatives, according to multiple reports, while Yankees managing general partner Hal Steinbrenner has held multiple meetings of his own with the pitcher. The Phillies also brought in star outfielder Bryce Harper as part of their pitch to Yamamoto.

The 45-day window to sign Yamamoto, in keeping with MLB-NPB posting rules, expires Jan. 4., but he is expected to make a selection by the end of the month. 

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