Japanese ace Yoshinobu Yamamoto is expected to be posted by the Orix Buffaloes on Monday, which means the 45-day negotiating window will open on Tuesday. That comes from ESPN’s Buster Olney and tracks with similar reports about the righty’s timeline. Unlike the previous system in which teams had to submit bids, with the highest bid securing exclusive negotiating rights, all 30 teams can engage posted players. The winning team will then be subject to a posting fee based on the value of the contract.
In Yoshinobu’s case, the deal will cost quite a bit more than just the projected $200 million price tag. The release fee under the amended NPB posting system amounts to 20% of the first $25 million ($5M), 17.5% of the next $25 million ($4.375M), and 15% of everything over that (possibly $22.5M or more). As steep as it might seem to fork over $30+ million in addition to the deal, it’s a pittance compared to the $51+ million the Rangers and Yankees paid just to talk to Yu Darvish and Daisuke Matsuzaka, respectively.
As a quick point of clarification, the release fee is not part of a team’s competitive balance tax calculation. Speaking of which, it should also be noted that there’s no such thing as front-loading or back-loading a deal to create more favorable tax situations. The CBT is based on the average annual value of a contract, which is total guaranteed money over total guaranteed years.
It does make sense, however, for a deal to be structured so that Yamamoto earns less in actual salary during the early years to help offset the big cash hit from the release fee.
This is a unique situation because Yamamoto is clearly the best pitcher in Japan right now, maybe ever, and he’s coming over at a much younger age than most posted players. Blessed with a mid-90s fastball, a wicked splitter, big curve, firm cutter, and nasty slider, he should be able to hold his own at the top of any rotation. Even if you factor in some regression in the numbers, his performance — 1.21 ERA and 169 strikeouts to 28 walks over 164 innings — sets a very high floor.
The only real criticism of Yamamoto is that he’s only 5-foot-10, but that’s not going to stop several teams from falling all over each other to sign him. The Cubs are expected to be among the most dogged suitors in a process that could involve a number of somewhat unexpected teams. Even the Tigers and Diamondbacks, neither of whom typically carries big payrolls, will be lining up meetings.
The Yankees should be in the mix as well, though GM Brian Cashman may have hurt their chances with his recent comments about the oft-injured Giancarlo Stanton. The rub there is that both Stanton and Yamamoto are represented by Joel Wolfe of Wasserman. Woopsie-doodle.
Yamamoto isn’t the only Japanese pitcher the Cubs will pursue either, as lefty Shota Imanaga has been on their radar for a while too. They’ve had success selling former NPB stars on the idea of playing in Chicago, so they shouldn’t be discounted as big players this time around.
“It’s a great baseball culture,” Jed Hoyer said after a September scouting trip to Japan. “Obviously, they have a lot of really good players. Making sure that’s a market that we are actively involved in is something that’s really important.”
Just like the potential pursuits of Shohei Ohtani, Juan Soto, or two Brewers pitchers, I’m not all that bullish on the Cubs’ chances to make this happen. I am, however, excited by the possibility that they’ll give Yamamoto and all the others a real run in what figures to be a very active offseason.