6 reasons Yamamoto's stock is soaring

December 14th, 2023

Only one pitcher in MLB history has signed a contract larger than $245 million.

eclipsed that number and set a record for pitchers when he inked a nine-year, $324 million deal with the Yankees in 2019, just days after signed a seven-year, $245 million contract with the Nationals.

, though, appears poised to blow past the $245 million mark and may even challenge Cole’s record despite having never thrown a pitch in Major League Baseball.

After an exceptional seven-year career for the Orix Buffaloes of Nippon Professional Baseball in his native Japan, Yamamoto is the hottest free agent on the market, and the projected numbers for his eventual contract keep climbing as deep pocketed teams far and wide line up for the chance to sign him.

Here are six reasons why Yamamoto’s stock is soaring.

He’s very young for a free agent

Yamamoto, who made his NPB debut at the age of 18 in 2017, won’t turn 26 until next August, which means 2024 will be his age-25 campaign. The right-hander’s age is an extreme anomaly compared to other MLB free agents. Even and , two players who reached free agency at a young age, were both entering their age-26 seasons when they hit the open market in 2018.

Most upper-tier free agents fall in the 29-31 age range.

, and , three other notable free-agent pitchers this offseason, are all entering their age-31 seasons in 2024.

Including Nola’s contract with the Phillies, there have been nine free-agent deals signed by pitchers for $110 million or more over the past five years. Eight of the nine pitchers were entering their age-30 seasons or older at the time, and none were younger than 29.

  • Cole, age 29: nine years, $324 million with Yankees
  • Strasburg, 31: seven years, $245 million with Nationals
  • , 35: five years, $185 million with Rangers
  • Nola, 31: seven years, $172 million with Phillies
  • , 30: six years, $162 million with Yankees
  • , 37: three years, $130 million with Mets
  • , 30: five years, $118 million with Phillies
  • , 30: five years, $115 million with Mariners
  • , 31: five years, $110 million with Blue Jays

His track record is impeccable

Though the level of competition in NPB may be a step below MLB -- most experts agree it falls somewhere between Triple-A and MLB -- Yamamoto’s NPB numbers are staggering nonetheless.

Yamamoto won the Eiji Sawamura Award, bestowed annually to Japan’s best pitcher, in each of the last three years. In that span, he went 49-16 with a 1.44 ERA and 580 strikeouts over 550 2/3 innings. In his seven-year career, the righty registered a 1.82 ERA over 897 innings.

Yamamoto has also shown a knack for rising to the occasion.

With a number of MLB executives in attendance on Sept. 9, including Yankees GM Brian Cashman, Yamamoto fired a no-hitter -- the second of his career -- against the Chiba Lotte Marines.

Less than two months later, he capped off his year, and possibly his NPB career, by tossing a masterful 14-strikeout complete game on 138 pitches in Game 6 of the Japan Series.

Earlier in the year, Yamamoto excelled for Samurai Japan in the World Baseball Classic, recording a 2.45 ERA with 12 strikeouts over 7 1/3 innings to help his country win gold. He previously won a gold medal with Team Japan in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics as well, earning a place on the All-Olympic Team in the process.

Performances like those offer hope that Yamamoto is equipped to excel under MLB's bright lights.

His stuff is incredible

Yamamoto can attack hitters with a diverse arsenal featuring a high-velocity running four-seamer, a wipeout splitter, a cutter/slider hybrid and a rainbow curveball that stands as his signature offering.

We even have some Statcast data on his pitch mix, gathered during the World Baseball Classic, as MLB.com’s David Adler broke down here.

Of course, you don't need numbers to tell you that Yamamoto has electric stuff. Just watch him.

Other Japanese pitchers have made successful jumps to MLB

The mystery that once enshrouded Japanese baseball dissipated long ago.

Over the past three decades, we’ve seen a long list of Japanese stars make the jump to the Majors and have success, especially on the pitching side, which significantly eases concerns about Yamamoto’s ability to acclimate to American baseball.

, , , , , , and are among the aces from the Land of the Rising Sun who have made an impact on the mound in MLB, blazing a trail that Yamamoto will now look to follow.

Virtually every big-market team wants him

While free-agent bidding wars between deep-pocketed teams are nothing new, very rare is it that nearly every big-spending club is pursuing the same player. But that’s the case with Yamamoto, who has been linked to the Yankees, Mets, Dodgers, Giants, Red Sox, Cubs, Phillies, Blue Jays and Cardinals at various points this offseason.

Although it’s unclear how many of those teams are still in the mix for Yamamoto as he nears his decision, he has reportedly met with the Yanks, Mets, Dodgers and Giants already and has plans to meet with the Red Sox, Blue Jays and possibly others in the coming days, sources told MLB.com's Mark Feinsand.

He’s not tied to a qualifying offer

Another reason Yamamoto is appealing to so many teams? He’s not tied to Draft compensation, unlike free agents who rejected qualifying offers.

Take Snell as a comparison. After the left-hander turned down a qualifying offer from the Padres, teams other than San Diego will need to forfeit at least one Draft pick to sign him. The penalty for Competitive Balance Tax payors, some of whom are interested in Yamamoto, to sign QO free agents is especially steep.

To sign Snell, the Yankees and Mets would need to forfeit their second- and fifth-highest selections in the 2024 Draft, as well as $1 million from their international bonus pool for the upcoming signing period.

The Dodgers already gave up those assets when they signed Ohtani, another free agent tied to a QO. Signing Snell would cost Los Angeles its third- and sixth-highest selections as well.

There are no such obligations when it comes to Yamamoto.