Sources — Japanese star Yamamoto goes to Dodgers for 12 years, $325M


Star Japanese right-hander Yoshinobu Yamamoto has agreed to join the Dodgers on a 12-year, $325 million contract, sources told ESPN, ending a frenzied free agency with the largest deal for a pitcher in Major League Baseball history.

The Dodgers’ offer, which includes a $50.6 million posting fee due to Yamamoto’s previous team, the Orix Buffaloes, sealed the second-biggest deal this winter behind Shohei Ohtani’s contract with the Dodgers.

The 25-year-old Yamamoto, who has won three consecutive MVP awards and Sawamura Awards — Nippon Professional Baseball’s equivalent of the Cy Young — drew significant interest from the New York Yankees, New York Mets, Boston Red Sox, San Francisco Giants, Philadelphia Phillies and Toronto Blue Jays.

Since transitioning from the bullpen to Orix’s rotation in 2019, Yamamoto has dominated NPB like nobody in the league’s 74-year history. Over 820 1/3 innings, he has posted a 1.65 ERA, struck out nearly five times as many hitters as he walked and allowed one home run every 28 innings.

With a fastball that runs up to 99 mph, a devastating split-fingered fastball and a looping curveball that often buckles batters’ knees, he brings as good an arsenal as any pitcher who has come the Major League Baseball from Japan. At 5-foot-10 and 176 pounds, Yamamoto lacks the size of a typical frontline starter, but teams interested in him were not concerned, focusing more on the quality of stuff his body can generate.

He does so through a unique training method that prioritizes flexibility and movement over raw strength. Yamamoto does not lift weights, relying instead on a regimen of body-weight exercises, stretches and a significant amount of throwing — from tiny soccer balls to mini javelins to long toss and bullpens with regulation-sized baseballs. His athleticism, evaluators said, allows him to impart force on the ball disproportionate to his size.

Accordingly, teams have lined up for more than a year to sign him. They expected him to be posted after he turned 25 in August, as he no longer would be subject to MLB rules that force players to sign international amateur deals — in which compensation is limited to bonus pools of less than $10 million — before their 25th birthday.

Yankees general manager Brian Cashman, Dodgers president Andrew Friedman, Giants president Farhan Zaidi and Chicago Cubs president Jed Hoyer were among the executives who traveled to Japan this year to see Yamamoto in person.

Once Yamamoto was officially posted Nov. 20, with a 45-day window for him to sign, Mets owner Steve Cohen and president David Stearns flew there to meet with him, and his tour around the United States included another stop with the Mets, a pair of visits with the Yankees and meetings with the Dodgers, Giants, Phillies and Red Sox.

The get-togethers helped Yamamoto crystallize his priorities before the teams started talking terms of the deal with Yamamoto and his agent, Joel Wolfe, on Monday (Dec. 18). Of his five excellent seasons as a starter, 2023 was perhaps the best, with a 1.21 ERA over 164 innings with a 6-to-1 strikeout to walk ratio and just two home runs allowed.

Yamamoto’s agreement, which was earlier reported by ESPN’s Buster Olney, beats Gerrit Cole’s $324 million guaranteed from the Yankees by $1 million and exceeds Stephen Strasburg’s seven-year, $245 million contract with the Washington Nationals as the second highest.

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