Major League Baseball's free agency is open for business, and that means the time is nigh for speculation, waking dreams, and wish-casting. That's why CBS Sports will be spending the next few weeks attempting to identify the market for several of the winter's top free agents.
Assuming the position this time around is ace right-hander Yoshinobu Yamamoto. He'll be available to MLB teams through the posting system, which means, on top of whatever contract he signs, his team in Japan – the Orix Buffaloes – will be entitled to a posting fee that's well into eight figures. On the other hand, since he's obviously not subject to MLB's qualifying-offer system, Yamamoto won't cost his new team a draft pick.
Yamamoto is just 25 years of age, which makes him exceptionally young for a free agent, and he's been utterly dominant in Japan. That's why we ranked him behind only Shohei Ohtani in the 2023-24 free agent class. Here's part of our write-up on Yamamoto:
Yamamoto is a five-time All-Star, a three-time ERA champion, and a two-time Triple Crown champion in NPB. Last year, he won the Pacific League's equivalents of the MVP and Cy Young Awards. He is, in our estimation, the best pitcher in the world to have never suited up for an MLB team. Oh, and he just celebrated his 25th birthday in August. Talent evaluators have raved to CBS Sports about Yamamoto for years, citing his high-grade command over a good arsenal as the most impressive part of his game. He throws a mid-90s fastball about half the time, complementing it with a swing-and-miss splitter and a high-spin curveball. Each of those pitches went for a strike at least 65% of the time this season, reinforcing the notion that he paints with a fine-tip brush. There's more than enough precedent to feel confident in Yamamoto making an easy adjustment to the MLB ball and schedule. In turn, there's no reason for teams to hold back in their bidding, rendering it highly likely that he shatters Masahiro Tanaka's record $155 million contract.
So who's most likely to land the coveted moundsman? Educated guesses forthcoming …
While the Giants' most pressing needs are on offense, any team can be improved by adding a young ace of Yamamoto's upside. As well, the Giants under Farhan Zaidi desperately need to add star power to a roster that's flush with worthy complementary pieces but light on the kinds of leading contributors that make you a contender. They also of course have the resources to pay the going rates for Yamamoto and still address the sagging lineup.
The chronically mighty Dodgers managed yet another 100-win campaign despite a rotation that was a concern pretty much all season. Walker Buehler should return to the fold in 2024, but he's at least a bit of an unknown quantity coming off his second Tommy John surgery. As well, Tony Gonsolin will likely miss all of 2024 after his own TJ, and Dustin May (also Tommy John) figures to miss at least the first half and change. Maybe future Hall of Famer Clayton Kershaw returns, but he'll be coming off shoulder surgery and carrying with him a pronounced lack of durability in recent seasons. The Dodgers' top priority will likely be signing Ohtani, but they have more than enough resources to land Yamamoto, as well. They badly need rotation help to take the pressure off their young starters, and no one fits the bill in 2024 like Yamamoto.
The Phillies are plainly in win-now mode, and Dave Dombrowski is famously an aggressive operator when it comes to adding win-now talent. In the rotation, stalwart right-hander Aaron Nola is a free agent, and it's possible the Phils let him walk in the face of his high workloads and declining strikeout numbers. If that's the case, then Yamamoto is the most alluring replacement available. Even if Nola comes back, you can make a case for the Phillies adding a third ace to the Nola and Zack Wheeler tandem. The willingness to spend is certainly there.
Under-pressure GM Brian Cashman has said the Yankees will be looking to add multiple outfielders this winter, but they're also going to be very much in the Yamamoto fray. Given the uncertainty surrounding Carlos Rodón coming off his disastrous 2023, the Yankees need someone like Yamamoto to pair with ace Gerrit Cole at the front end. The club of course has vast coffers, but Hal Steinbrenner's reluctance to use them fully and, more specifically, to get in a bidding war with the owner of the next team on our list must be acknowledged. The Yanks are absolutely one to watch on Yamamoto, but it's hard to call them the early favorites.
New president of baseball ops David Stearns has signaled that addressing the rotation is a priority this winter. At the deadline of the lost 2023 season, they parted with veteran front-liners Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer, and now they have Kodai Senga and José Quintana at the front end. Senga in particular is a high-quality starting pitcher, but in a division with the Braves and Phillies in it, the Mets need more. Yamamoto certainly qualifies as "more." Owner Steve Cohen is nothing if not a willing spender, and given Yamamoto's promise and the club's pronounced need of more starting pitching the Mets figure to be highly aggressive on this front.