If the Cubs hope to sign Japanese ace Yoshinobu Yamamoto, they’re going to have to beat out as many as 13 other teams pursuing him during the 45-day posting period that opened earlier in the week. Joel Wolfe, who represents Yamamoto as an executive VP of Wasserman, told the Kyodo News that somewhere between 11 and 14 teams have already been in contact.
“This is by far the player with the most interested teams that I have ever seen at the beginning of free agency,” Wolfe told the Kyodo News. “It’s what we call a perfect storm, where you have one of the finest young pitchers in the world who also is just 25 years old. It’s generational. Something like this only happens once every 10 or 15 years.”
Keep in mind that Wasserman also reps Kodai Senga, who signed with the Mets last season as one of the most coveted arms available. Yamamoto, however, is in a class of his own due to his age and sheer dominance in NPB. He has won Japan’s equivalent of the Cy Young in three straight seasons, each of which saw him lead the league in wins, strikeouts, and ERA.
Armed with a mid-90s fastball, splitter, curve, cutter, and slider, he should be able to make the transition to MLB without much of a hiccup. While the talent alone would make him a top target, his youth is what’s drawing more interest than usual. At 3-5 years younger than most other posted pitchers — Senga was 30 last season, for instance — rebuilding squads are willing to join the fray because they could get an ace who’ll be around for a while.
Wolfe said his client is willing to play anywhere, which may be more of a marketing ploy after initial reports said he preferred larger markets. One thing that has been consistent the whole time is that Yamamoto is not averse to playing with other Japanese players. An earlier report said that he actually preferred to join a team with one or more of his countrymen already there, but Wolfe clarified that Yamamoto was simply open to that idea.
The biggest factor will of course be money, as Yamamoto is expected to command a contract that will be among the largest ever given to a pitcher. Though it’s entirely likely his new deal will include opt-outs, having so many teams involved is a good indicator that the price tag will approach or even exceed $200 million. Among the teams tied to him so far are the Cubs, Cardinals, Giants, Yankees, Red Sox, Dodgers, Diamondbacks, Tigers, Phillies, Blue Jays, and Mets.
Aaron Nola got the biggest deal of the winter so far, but that didn’t really jumpstart the market because he returned to the Phillies prior to Thanksgiving. Other big free agents like Blake Snell and Jordan Montgomery may choose to essentially draft behind Yamamoto in an attempt to aid their own cases, at which point we could also see several trades for pitchers. That would mean waiting another six weeks or so for things to really get going.
Then again, maybe Yamamoto makes his decision early and everything picks up prior to the new year. It’s all speculation at this point, so we just have to let things play out.