What impact will Yamamoto signing have on Hot Stove?

December 22nd, 2023

As the news broke late Thursday night that Yoshinobu Yamamoto had reached a 12-year, $325 million agreement with the Dodgers, one thought ran through the mind of baseball people everywhere:

Finally. Let the offseason begin.

A Hot Stove that had largely been held up by the top two free agents – Shohei Ohtani and Yamamoto – might finally thaw, as a number of notable free agents are still without a team less than two months until Spring Training gets underway.

What impact with Yamamoto’s deal have on the rest of the market? Let’s take a look:

Will the Yamamoto signing finally be the spark that gets the rest of the Hot Stove burning?

We can only hope. We’ve seen a number of players come off the board already this winter, but Ohtani and Yamamoto have paralyzed much of the market for the past six weeks.

With the top available hitter/unicorn and pitcher both landing in Los Angeles, a number of teams are still seeking help for their  rosters. Clubs that came up short on either Ohtani or Yamamoto – or, in some cases, both – will now have to pivot elsewhere.

Ohtani and Yamamoto ranked 1-2 on our Top 25 free agent list back in early-November, but seven of our Top 11 – Blake Snell (No. 3), Cody Bellinger (No. 4), Josh Hader (No. 6), Jordan Montgomery (No. 8), J.D. Martinez (No. 9), Matt Chapman (No. 10) and Jorge Soler (No. 11) – remain unsigned.

How does the Yamamoto deal impact Blake Snell’s market?

Snell is reportedly seeking a deal worth more than $200 million, and after watching Yamamoto land the largest pitching-only guaranteed deal without ever throwing a pitch in the Majors, who could blame him?

Snell added a second career Cy Young Award in 2023, becoming just the seventh pitcher to win the award in both leagues. Yet despite those two stellar seasons, some look at the warts on Snell’s résumé and wonder whether a team is going to give him the long-term, big-money deal he’s looking for.

He’s 31. He led the league with 99 walks last season. He has thrown 180 innings in each of his Cy Young seasons, but hasn’t reached 130 innings in any other year in his career. But Snell is considered to be the best pitcher left on the free-agent market, and with so many teams looking to add front-line help to their rotations, he should have plenty of options in the coming weeks.

It makes sense why Yamamoto was holding up Snell’s market, but why was he having such an impact on position players such as Cody Bellinger and Matt Chapman?

My friend Tony Kornheiser often cites a quote from the legendary television producer Don Ohlmeyer: “The answer to all your questions is: Money.”

It’s that simple. Some teams that were in on Yamamoto are also potential suitors for Bellinger and/or Chapman, so it was tough to have meaningful conversations with the position players until they knew whether they were going to allocate significant financial resources to Yamamoto.

Snell, Bellinger, Chapman and Jordan Montgomery – the second-best free-agent starting pitcher left – have another thing in common: They’re all represented by Scott Boras, who has never been shy about playing the waiting game in free agency.

Many had assumed that Boras’ big four would wait until Ohtani and Yamamoto signed before making their own moves, and now that the two Japanese stars are off the board, those players can take center stage on the hot stove.

The Yankees and Mets both offered Yamamoto $300 million or more; what’s next for them?

The Yankees still need to address their pitching staff, either by adding another starter – a reunion with Montgomery, perhaps? – or building up a bullpen that can help shorten games to take some pressure off the rotation.

That rotation currently includes Gerrit Cole, Carlos Ródon, Nestor Cortes and Clarke Schmidt, but the fifth spot is a major question mark at the moment. There are some internal candidates, but none who inspires confidence for a team looking to return to the postseason.

There are some starters available on the trade market – Dylan Cease and Corbin Burnes, specifically – but after dealing away a number of players for Juan Soto, the Yankees feel like a long shot to acquire either of those pitchers without giving up somebody such as Anthony Volpe or Jasson Dominguez.

As for the Mets, it was only five months ago that they traded Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander, going into a reset of sorts. The idea at the time was that the Mets would take a step back in 2023-24, try to build up the farm system and go after it in 2025.

Their pursuit of Yamamoto – which included the initial 12-year, $325 million offer, one the Dodgers wound up matching – was an exception for the Mets, who viewed the 25-year-old Yamamoto as a building block for the next decade. It seems unlikely that losing out on Yamamoto will prompt Steve Cohen and David Stearns to go after the likes of Snell, Bellinger or Montgomery. The more probable scenario would be for the Mets to make some minor improvements in an attempt to be competitive this season and a greater eye on 2025.

Which other Yamamoto suitors could pivot to other top free agents?

The three teams to watch coming out of the Yamamoto sweepstakes are the Blue Jays, Giants and Red Sox. Toronto and San Francisco were also bridesmaids in the Ohtani saga, and now that both clubs have lost out on Yamamoto, it would not be surprising to see them make a play for some of the other big names on the board.

The Blue Jays could pivot to Bellinger and/or Chapman, while the Giants are more likely to look for pitching help, with Snell and Shota Imanaga as candidates. San Francisco could also consider signing Bellinger while adding a second-tier starter such as Marcus Stroman or Lucas Giolito.

Boston is still in need for rotation help, and while Montgomery and Imanaga are on their radar, the Red Sox could also look to others including Stroman, Giolito and Michael Lorenzen.

The Phillies made a run at Yamamoto, who they viewed as being worth a jump in payroll. But Philadelphia seems more likely now to look for marginal improvements, as president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski has said he likes the general makeup of the club.

One other team to watch is the Cubs, who pursued both Ohtani and Yamamoto only to watch them sign with the Dodgers. Chicago could try to bring back Bellinger, add Chapman at third base, or possibly look at any of the other starting pitchers on the free-agent or trade markets.