I meant to get to this yesterday when Michael Canter dropped a note in his Rundown column, but then things got sideways on me when I had to set up a new work computer. It ended up slipping between the cracks because the report in question was about the Mets’ potential pursuit of star Japanese pitcher Yoshinobu Yamamoto and the bit about the Cubs was sort of tacked onto the end. But hey, I have a little free time now.
Setting aside any of the Mets-specific stuff, the most notable information in Will Sammon’s piece for The Athletic is that Yamamoto wants to play in a large market. Since MLB teams aren’t exactly operating in small towns, we can presume he’s talking about top-tier cities in terms of both population and, presumably, culture. A connection was made to Kodai Senga, who opted to play in Queens last year, though the same could be said for any number of free agents.
One other little wrinkle about Yamamoto’s courtship, and perhaps that of Yuki Matsui — a reported Cubs target — is that Japanese players have previously been reluctant to join their countrymen on MLB teams. Sammon cited something Ken Rosenthal wrote earlier this year regarding the respect for seniority in Japanese culture as a reason for former NPB stars opting not to join forces, though that isn’t believed to be the case with Yamamoto. It may well be that such views are shifting for other players as well, particularly after Team Japan’s experience in the World Baseball Classic.
Of course, it’s a little different if we’re talking about a Japanese position player joining a team that already has a big-name Japanese pitcher or vice versa. The idea of respecting seniority is a little stronger in the case of two starters in the same rotation, though it sounds like both Senga and Yamamoto are very open to the idea of joining forces. While I have no reason to doubt that’s true, this piece is specifically about the Mets and wasn’t written to downplay their pursuit of Yamamoto.
Which brings us to the Cubs, who “profile as [one of several] teams that could make a serious run at Yamamoto.” The Dodgers, Giants, and Yankees were also named, but this was very clearly a matter of listing teams in the biggest markets that make sense as kicking the tires on a big-time pitcher. Yamamoto is going to be one of the top free-agent targets overall and could earn a contract in excess of $200 million, so the number of suitors figures to be somewhat limited.
That’s higher than we typically see for a posted Japanese pitcher because Yamamoto is the best starter in NPB and he’s only 25 years old. As hard as it is to see the Cubs making such a big splash with a long-term deal for a starter this winter, they’ve scouted Yamamoto and would be foolish to not at least kick the tires.