Yoshinobu Yamamoto intriguing to Padres

Japan Times

Mandatory Credit: Yukihito Taguchi-USA TODAY Sports

Japanese RHP Yoshinobu Yamamoto will be in high demand this winter, and the San Diego Padres are linked to him.

The San Diego Padres will need pitching for the 2024 season.

Multiple players are due for free agency, and the team will need to replace them

Blake Snell and Josh Hader are free to sign with anyone, and Seth Lugo and Michael Wacha may also explore free agency. How will the Padres replace all these veteran arms?

We all know that A.J. Preller likes to think outside the box, and he may explore signing a prized free-agent pitcher from Japan. Yoshinobu Yamamoto is regarded as one of the best pitchers in the league. He has won multiple Sawamura Awards, which are equivalent to a Cy Young Award (Yamamoto just won his third consecutive award this week). The right-handed pitcher has also won back-to-back Pacific League MVPs.

In 2023, Yamamoto was 16-2 with a 1.21 ERA in 23 starts and 164 innings pitched for the Orix Buffaloes. He struck out 169 batters in that time while walking only 28 men. The fireballer allowed just two homers on the season and put up a 6.04 strikeout-to-walk rate, which was the best of his seven-year career. He is only getting better.

Yamamoto features a four-pitch mix with a fastball that sits comfortably in the mid-90s and tops out at 98-99 mph. He also throws a cutter, which has great late movement. His curveball provides excellent depth, and his best secondary pitch is a devastating split-finger fastball, which he puts batters away with when they have two strikes on them.

A.J. Preller and his staff have checked in on the pitcher and even scouted him multiple times in Japan. “He brings a lot of upside with him. His age and ability are something special when it comes to free agency,” a Padres source told EVT last week. There is a definite link, and the Padres will surely be in the mix for his services.

Yu Darvish could help the Padres in recruiting Yamamoto. The Padres’ ace pitcher would provide a familiar face for Yamamoto as he acclimates to life in the States. The 25-year-old pitcher should have a lot of life left in his golden right arm. The Padres can only hope Darvish is capable of selling the Padres franchise to Yamamoto.

At 5-foot-10 and 175 lbs, there are some slight concerns about durability for the native of Bizen, Japan. He has averaged 162.7 innings in his seven-year career with significant arm issues. His mechanics are very clean, and Yamamoto is in excellent shape. His size is a slight concern, but given his age, he should still be productive for many years.

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Last winter, Kodai Senga signed with the New York Mets for five years and $75 million. The Padres were in the mix for his services but eventually soured on the asking price for the Japanese pitcher.

Yamamoto is largely described as a better pitcher than Senga, and he will surely get a better deal. You could easily see a $100 million contract for the pitcher this winter. And some predict he will get closer to $200 million when it is all said and done. His upside is really intriguing. Given his age and pedigree, the sky is the limit.

The Orix Buffaloes expect to post the pitcher this winter, meaning he is not a true free agent. As per MLB.com, “The release fee will be 20 percent of the first $25 million plus 17.5 percent of the next $25 million plus 15 percent of the total guaranteed value exceeding $50 million.”

Can the Padres afford another $100 million plus on the books?

I guess that all depends on where the Padres want the payroll to begin in 2024. There are some big names who may leave the pitching staff and, with them, a lot of money off the books. Do the Padres gamble on an unproven player to help anchor this staff? We shall see.

The team is undoubtedly interested.

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