Yoshinobu Yamamoto reportedly agrees to join Dodgers on record 12-year, $325 million deal

Yoshinobu Yamamoto reportedly agreed Thursday to a 12-year, $325 million contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers, according to ESPN's Jeff Passan. The deal comes after Yamamoto was posted and made available to MLB teams in November. He was second to only Shohei Ohtani on Yahoo Sports' list of this winter's top 25 free agents

Yamamoto leaves Japan as arguably the most decorated pitcher in Nippon Professional Baseball history. He made his debut with the Orix Buffaloes at age 18 and proceeded to record a 1.82 ERA in a seven-year career, reaching comically dominant heights the past three years.

That performance earned Yamamoto the largest pitching contract in MLB history. His $325 million topped the nine-year, $324 million deal Gerrit Cole signed with the New York Yankees in 2019. The Dodgers also paid a $50.6 million posting fee to sign Yamamoto, per Passan.

Unlike Ohtani's 10-year, $700 million deal with the Dodgers, Yamamoto's contract reportedly does not contain any deferrals, according to Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic. The deal does reportedly include a pair of opt-outs, per Passan.

From 2021 to 2023, Yamamoto won a Japan Series title, a World Baseball Classic title, three pitching Triple Crowns, three Sawamura Awards (the Japanese Cy Young equivalent) and three Pacific League MVPs. He is the first player since Ichiro Suzuki to win three straight MVPs in NPB and only the second pitcher ever to win three, after Hisashi Yamada.

Yamamoto's big-game bona fides got even bigger with his final NPB start, a 14-strikeout complete game in an elimination game in the Japan Series that broke a series strikeout record held by Yu Darvish.

Yoshinobu Yamamoto helped lead Team Japan to victory in the 2023 World Baseball Classic. (Photo by Eric Espada/Getty Images)
Yoshinobu Yamamoto helped lead Team Japan to victory in the 2023 World Baseball Classic. (Photo by Eric Espada/Getty Images) (Eric Espada via Getty Images)

Yamamoto's deal sets record for Japanese players

Here is the list of every contract worth more than $50 million that a Japanese player has agreed to in making the jump to MLB.

1. Yoshinobu Yamamoto: 12 years, $325 million, $50.6 million posting fee
2. Masahiro Tanaka, New York Yankees: seven years, $155 million, $20 million posting fee
3. Masataka Yoshida, Boston Red Sox: five years, $90 million, $15.4 million posting fee
4. Seiya Suzuki, Chicago Cubs: five years, $85 million, $14.6 million posting fee
5. Yu Darvish, Texas Rangers: six years, $60 million, $51 million posting free
6. Yusei Kikuchi, Seattle Mariners: four years, $56 million, $10.3 million posting fee
7. Daisuke Matsuzaka, Boston Red Sox: six years, $52 million, $51.1 million posting fee

In case you were curious, Ichiro Suzuki's first MLB contract was a three-year, $14 million deal with a $13.1 million posting fee. Ohtani moved to the U.S. right after MLB rule changes meant he couldn't sign a big-money deal due to his young age.

Keep in mind that rules for posting fees have changed over the years. There was no limit until 2013. Now, posting fees are calculated as a percentage of a player's MLB deal.

Yamamoto's scouting report is overwhelmingly positive

Evaluating Yamamoto as a pitcher might be more efficient if we start with the negatives first. There is, basically, one.

At a listed 5-foot-10, 176 pounds, Yamamoto doesn't have the size of a prototypical MLB ace. When combined with the fact that he'll have to transition from pitching once per week to once every five days, there might be some room for worry that his body won't hold up to MLB's demands.

Pretty much everything else is a positive. FanGraphs describes Yamamoto as "reminiscent of peak Zack Greinke" and grades his future value as a 65 on the 20-80 scale, which is a higher grade than that of the current top prospect in the minors, Baltimore Orioles phenom Jackson Holliday. Baseball America went even higher, with a 70 grade for Yamamoto, saying he "projects to be a No. 2 starter and has a chance to contend for Cy Young Awards."

Yamamoto boasts a deep arsenal of pitches, with four of them graded by BA as above-average. It starts with a mid-90s fastball, followed by a wipeout splitter and a looping curveball. Rounding out the group are a slider and a cutter to keep hitters guessing, and all of the pitches are elevated by consistent command.

You can see the whole group laid out in GIFs here and here, and all of Yamamoto's offerings are in action in this video of his second career no-hitter, which happened a few months ago.

Yamamoto's combination of velocity, command and wicked movement has made him a pitcher who has both racked up strikeouts, with 587 in 557 2/3 innings over the past three years, and led the league in ground-ball rate multiple times, per Dodgers Digest's Daniel Brim. Getting so many ground balls is also a nice boon, as Yamamoto happens to be an elite fielder as well, winning this year's Fielding Bible Award for pitchers.

Age is another massive plus for Yamamoto. Juan Soto has been widely speculated to be on track for one of the largest contracts in sports history because he will hit free agency at just 26 years old. Yamamoto is currently 25. Pitchers tend to age worse than hitters, but even so, Yamamoto has plenty of prime left for the Dodgers to work with.

Yamamoto has even shown an ability to evolve at this early stage in his career. Until 2023, he used a high leg kick, like many other pitchers in NPB, but he eliminated it this year in favor of an approach similar to his stretch. He then proceeded to post the best season of his career by ERA.

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