The incredible popularity of Yamamoto is due to a couple of factors. Primarily, he has utterly dominated hitters in his career in Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball. He has an earned run average of 1.82 over his seven seasons, including a ridiculous 1.21 mark in 2023. He struck out 169 of the 636 batters he faced this year, a rate of 26.6%, while his 28 walks led to a rate of just 4.4%.
In addition to the results, teams will be incredibly interested in the fact that Yamamoto is just 25 years old. Players that come up through the affiliated ranks need to get six years of major league service time before reaching the open market, meaning they usually are close to or beyond their 30th birthday by the time they become free agents. That makes it extremely rare to have an opportunity to sign a player that is both this talented and this young. MLBTR predicted him for a contract of $225MM over nine years.
A projected contract of that size would normally restrict a player’s market to the top spenders but his age might open the door to some surprise bidders. Yamamoto has indeed been connected to plenty of moneyed clubs such as the Mets, Yankees, Red Sox, Giants and others. But even teams that don’t usually come up in these rumors could perhaps be willing to stretch their usual spending habits and take a chance on Yamamoto since the chance of him suddenly succumbing to the aging curve would be far lower than other free agents.
The Diamondbacks clearly need starting pitching, despite having just gone on a run to the Fall Classic. Zac Gallen, Merrill Kelly and Brandon Pfaadt give them three arms for next year’s rotation but they clearly have a drop-off after that, as demonstrated by the fact that they deployed a bullpen game in the fourth contest of the World Series, allowing 11 runs that night. Slade Cecconi, Ryne Nelson and Tommy Henry are on the roster as options for the back end but a rotation upgrade would surely help them build off the momentum of this year.
Their track record doesn’t give a lot of optimism of them getting this kind of deal done, however. They gave a mega deal to Zack Greinke going into 2016 but that was under a different front office and seems to be the exception more than the rule. Leaving that deal aside, their largest free agent contract is the $85MM they gave to Madison Bumgarner. They would likely have to more than double that to land Yamamoto. The Greinke deal was for $206.5MM, though, so landing Yamamoto wouldn’t be completely unprecedented. And as mentioned, some teams may be willing to go beyond their comfort zones for an exceptional case like this.
They are currently projected for a payroll of $104MM next year, per Roster Resource. They have gone a bit beyond that in the past, with Cot’s Baseball Contracts listing their franchise high as $132MM. Teams sometimes spend a little more after a strong postseason run, with some extra cash on hand after hosting some lucrative playoff games, perhaps giving the Snakes a bit of money to spend this winter.
The Tigers have struck plenty of big deals in the past but Scott Harris has kept things on the modest side since taking over as president of baseball operations a year ago. Last winter, they kept themselves to one-year deals for Matthew Boyd and Michael Lorenzen.
There is perhaps an argument that the club is ready for more aggression, as they were above .500 after the All-Star break in 2023 and were able to climb into second place in the American League Central. With Miguel Cabrera’s onerous contract off the books, perhaps they could feel it’s time to make a splash. However, that was thinking a couple of years ago when the club tried to surge back into contention by signing Javier Báez and Eduardo Rodriguez, which didn’t work out.
“This game has taught us time and time again,” Harris recently said, per Chris McCosky of The Detroit News, “Sometimes, teams overestimate their proximity to being a team that’s right on the verge of the playoffs, and they spend a lot of money and it doesn’t push them forward. It pushes them back.” He then said that the club is going in the right direction but “can’t do anything in free agency or in trades that sets us back. If we find an opportunity that’s going to push us forward and we’re confident of that, we’re going to do it.”
The club is only projected for a payroll of $79MM next year, per Roster Resource, with a couple of non-tenders likely dropping that even further. They have been way beyond that in past, per Cot’s, so there’s room for them to make a bold strike on Yamamoto financially. But given the comments from Harris, it seems there are things beyond the money that would have to align for something to come together.
As for the Yankees, there were reports this week that suggested that club’s chances of signing Yamamoto took a hit in a strange way. Cashman alluded to the injury history of Giancarlo Stanton in a manner that was apparently viewed as disrespectful. Since Stanton and Yamamoto both have Joel Wolfe as an agent, some worried that the kerfuffle with Stanton would have the domino effect of spilling into their pursuit of Yamamoto. However, Andy Martino of SNY recently reported that the Japanese righty wasn’t even aware of the squabble.
In addition to the sum guaranteed to the player, a signing team will have to send money to the Orix Buffaloes, his NPB club. The MLB team will pay a fee to the Buffaloes in proportion to the size of Yamamoto’s contract. They’ll owe the NPB club 20% of the contract’s first $25MM, 17.5% of the next $25MM and 15% of any dollars thereafter. Once he is officially posted, there will be a 45-day window for him to work out a deal.