With Yamamoto in 'new home,' all eyes are on the Dodgers

December 28th, 2023

When the Dodgers show up to Camelback Ranch in just over a month, all eyes will be on them. After an offseason of spending -- and spending big -- they will be the center of attention of the baseball world.

There will be a large chunk of people who will be rooting for the Dodgers to succeed. There will also be a large group that will root against the club that has spent over $1 billion to improve its roster this winter.

After his 12-year, $325 million deal was made official on Wednesday, Japanese phenom  will be right in the middle of it all. But as he was introduced as a Dodger for the first time, Yamamoto didn’t seem fazed by the attention. Instead, he seemed to enjoy it.

Wearing a blue three-piece suit, Yamamoto stood on stage at Dodger Stadium and delivered a message, in English, before fielding questions from a large group of media members, something Los Angeles will have to get used to this season.

“I am beyond ecstatic to become a member of this historic franchise,” Yamamoto said. “I cannot express how much it means to me to be able to call Los Angeles my new home.”

Yamamoto’s path to calling Los Angeles his new home started years ago. The Dodgers have been scouting the right-hander since he was a teenager, and the interest only intensified this season when it became obvious that he would be posted to MLB teams by the Orix Buffaloes.

Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman made trips to Japan, including during Spring Training, and the club’s international scouts have been raving about Yamamoto’s skill set for quite some time. All of Yamamoto’s analytical reports quickly projected him to be the future ace of a staff.

Once Yamamoto became a free agent this winter, the Dodgers knew they needed to lock in Shohei Ohtani, inking him to a record 10-year, $700 million pact with unprecedented deferrals. But once that was taken care of, it was important for them to land Yamamoto, who they believed was clearly the best pitcher on the market despite having never thrown a pitch in Major League Baseball.

The Dodgers, of course, weren’t the only team recruiting Yamamoto. The Mets had multiple visits with Yamamoto, including a dinner at the home of owner Steve Cohen. The Yankees were also in hot pursuit, which included their GM Brian Cashman visiting Japan several times and the club refusing to hand out the No. 18 to a player last season.

The Giants were also heavily involved in the pursuit of Yamamoto, and his agent, Joel Wolfe, said if the Dodgers weren’t significantly recruiting the right-hander, it’s possible Yamamoto would’ve signed with L.A.'s NL West rival instead.

But luckily for Yamamoto and the Dodgers, there was plenty of mutual interest. Despite smartly entertaining all of his options, Yamamoto always preferred the Dodgers. His first meeting with the club happened earlier in December at Dodger Stadium, and the impact of it stuck with the righty until he made his decision.

Mookie Betts, Freddie Freeman, Will Smith and Ohtani all took time to be part of the meeting with Yamamoto. Ohtani, of course, shared the stage with Yamamoto during Japan’s championship run in the 2023 World Baseball Classic. There have never been two prominent Japanese players on one team, creating some doubt that the Dodgers could sign Yamamoto after nabbing Ohtani.

Instead, it was the complete opposite, as Ohtani played a massive role in helping the Dodgers land Yamamoto. And once the Dodgers held their own with a 12-year deal, it was a no-brainer for Yamamoto.

“I wouldn’t say [Ohtani] was the sole reason I decided to come here,” Yamamoto said through an interpreter. “Even if he went somewhere else, I probably still would have ended up in L.A. as a Dodger. On top of that, Shohei is obviously not only one of the best Japanese players, but he’s one of the best players, period, in all of MLB. To be able to play with him from here on out means a lot to me.”

With Yamamoto becoming the highest-paid pitcher in the Majors -- receiving the most guaranteed dollars ever given to a pitcher -- the Dodgers have spent more than $1.1 billion this offseason in deals with Ohtani, Yamamoto and Tyler Glasnow, who was acquired in a trade with Tampa Bay in December. The acquisitions, paired with the star power that was already on the roster, have turned the Dodgers into baseball’s edition of a “Super Team.”

“It has been an exciting couple of weeks for the Dodgers community,” said general manager Brandon Gomes. “Being able to add a starting pitcher as decorated and talented as Yoshinobu Yamamoto is a great way to wrap up 2023 and to add to what we expect to be a thrilling 2024 season.”

For the ‘24 season to be a success, Yamamoto will have to live up to the hype. He won the pitching Triple Crown in Nippon Professional Baseball, leading the league in wins, ERA and strikeouts. He also won the Eiji Sawamura Award, which is Japan’s equivalent of the Cy Young, in each of the past three seasons. In that span, Yamamoto went 49-16 with a 1.44 ERA.

As he transitions to the Majors, Yamamoto will have to adjust to a new ball, new ballparks, new routines and more fierce competition. He’s expected to be the ace the Dodgers have needed over the last few seasons. If they want to win a World Series, Yamamoto will likely have to lead them on the mound.

That might be a lot of pressure for most people. But it’s exactly what Yamamoto decided he wanted when he picked the Dodgers to be his new home.

“It was very important to me to join a team that wants to win -- and not only now, but in the future as well. I really felt that through this whole process, the Dodgers provided that opportunity the most,” Yamamoto said. “I’m really grateful for how highly they thought of me through this process. So going from here, I want to make sure I can answer those expectations as well.”