Who is Yamamoto and why is he a good fit with the Mets?

November 28th, 2023

This story was excerpted from Anthony DiComo’s Mets Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

From the Mets’ perspective, there may be no more intriguing Winter Meetings storyline than the pursuit of .

While rumors of Shohei Ohtani and other players are sure to persist, the snuggest fit between player and team appears to be Yamamoto and the Mets. And there is no better forum for talks to pick up than the Winter Meetings, which are set to begin on Monday in Nashville.

But who is Yamamoto? Why do the Mets want him? Here’s a quick primer on one of this offseason’s premier free agents.

Who is this Yamamoto guy, anyway?
He’s the best pitcher in Japan right now, full stop. Yamamoto just won the Sawamura Award -- Nippon Professional Baseball’s version of the Cy Young -- for the third consecutive season (beating out Kodai Senga, among others, in previous years). His ERA over the past five campaigns is 1.64, including a 1.16 mark this season.

Statistically speaking, Yamamoto has enjoyed even more NPB success than Senga, who obviously adjusted quite well to Major League Baseball. Yamamoto doesn’t strike out quite as many batters as Senga, but he walks fewer and almost never allows homers.

The kicker? He just turned 25 years old. It’s worth debating whether Yamamoto is about to become the best Japanese pitcher ever to move to Major League Baseball. If things go well, his career could come to rival -- or surpass -- those of Yu Darvish, Masahiro Tanaka and Hideo Nomo.

What sort of contract is he looking at? What about the posting fee?
The industry consensus is that Yamamoto should command at least $200 million as a free agent. With big-market behemoths such as the Mets, Yankees, Dodgers, Giants and Red Sox all rumored to be interested in Yamamoto, that figure could climb even higher.

There’s no one on the market quite like Yamamoto, an ace-caliber pitcher well under the age of 30. Senga’s success this side of the Pacific has also emboldened teams looking to acquire Japanese talent.

Over the years, the posting system for Japanese players has evolved to resemble regular free-agent proceedings. These days, such players can negotiate freely with all MLB teams before a fee is paid. The winning bidder must pay the posting team -- in this case, the Orix Buffaloes -- a percentage of the final value only after the contract is signed.

Is New York a realistic option?
Rumors that Yamamoto prefers a West Coast destination, according to a person with knowledge of the pitcher’s thinking, are categorically false. The truth is that Yamamoto will consider all potential markets. More than that, New York may be the U.S. city that most resembles Osaka, where Yamamoto played all seven of his NPB seasons. Those two metropolitan areas are similar in both size and baseball fervor.

Ultimately, like most negotiations, this figures to come down to money. Steve Cohen has more of that than any owner in baseball, putting the Mets in prime position to make a top-market offer. While other teams focus their attention on Ohtani (and the Mets will surely look into him, too), New York may be the club most motivated to make a strong run at Yamamoto. Currently, the Mets have just two starting pitchers penciled into their rotation. At age 25, Yamamoto could provide significant help not just next summer, but for years to come.

So, yes, there’s a reasonable chance the Mets end up being the high bidder for Yamamoto. If that’s the case, they’ll be strong contenders to sign him, even in the face of significant competition. Yamamoto’s agent, Joel Wolfe, recently told Japanese reporters that more than a dozen clubs have shown serious interest in the pitcher.

How does Senga feel about all this?
According to one person in the know, Senga contacted Yamamoto before he was posted to say he would be happy if Yamamoto signed with the Mets.

Senga’s presence could help Yamamoto in several ways. Given that this would be the Mets’ second prominent Japanese signing in 13 months, they already have infrastructure in place for a smooth transition.

Last year, pitching coach Jeremy Hefner and his staff drew up a blueprint designed to ease Senga into an every-five-games pitching schedule versus the once-per-week routine that’s normal in Japan. The team also hired Japanese staff members and even added food options to its clubhouse spread, among other details designed to make Senga comfortable. That can all benefit Yamamoto if he chooses to sign in New York.

When might he sign?
Yamamoto’s posting last Monday opened a 45-day window for teams to sign him. That expires on Jan. 4 at 5 p.m. ET.

However, a source close to the process said not to expect things to go that long. The reality is that Yamamoto can sign at any time and is likely to do so in advance of the deadline. Even if a signing doesn’t occur at the Winter Meetings, the process figures to gain significant steam there -- much as Senga’s did. A resolution before Christmas seems plausible.