Rafu Wire Service Reports
The Japanese pitchers moving to and within Major League Baseball this winter were of considerable interest to executives gathered for this year’s general managers meetings that wrapped up last Thursday.
Chief among those players are the free agency Angels two-way superstar Shohei Ohtani and the impending posting of Orix Buffaloes ace Yoshinobu Yamamoto in what is expected to be a starting pitchers seller’s market.
Yamamoto, a 25-year-old, 5-foot-10 right-hander, has won the last three Sawamura Awards as Japan’s most impressive starting pitcher, and went 16-6 with a 1.21 ERA over 164 innings this year.
“There has a been a lot of talk around the game about the relative scarcity of pitchers who can go deep into games,” said Farhan Zaidi, the San Francisco Giants’ president of baseball operations. “So when guys are available who can give you 150, 200 innings, there’s a real premium on that.”
Although Ohtani is not planning to return to the pitcher’s mound until 2025 after having elbow surgery this year, the demand for him is likely to remain high, said San Diego Padres General Manager A.J. Preller.
“He is an unbelievable talent,” Preller said. “From afar, seeing, knowing, hearing about work ethic, what he’s all about, attention to detail, my guess is he’s going to come back (from elbow surgery) and do really special things.”
ESPN has reported the teams most aggressive in pursuing Ohtani are the Angels, Dodgers, Giants, New York Mets, New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox, Chicago Cubs, Texas Rangers, Toronto Blue Jays and Seattle Mariners.
Jerry Dipoto, the Mariners’ president of baseball operations, said he expected Yamamoto to be in high demand as well.
“He’s an exceptional talent,” Dipoto said. “He’s played on the biggest stages in international play and an excellent career in his time in Japan, and someone is going to be very fortunate to have him come and sit at the top or near the top of their rotation.”
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DeNA BayStars left-hander Shota Imanaga will try to sign with an MLB team this offseason through the posting system, the Central League club said Saturday. Imanaga’s impending availability has thrown more fuel into MLB’s offseason, with teams seeing him as either a No. 2 or No. 3 starter.
Sports website The Athletic estimated that the 30-year-old DeNA BayStars lefty might get a four-year deal worth $52 million in total.
Imanaga impressed in his two innings as the starting and winning pitcher for Japan in March’s World Baseball Classic final against the U.S.
The MLB.com article raved about his split-fingered change, the pitch he used to strike out former National League MVP Paul Goldschmidt in the WBC final.
It also cited his average fastball velocity during the WBC of 94.4 miles per hour as ranking him higher than the average speed for left-handed starters in MLB.
However, Imanaga himself said this year those figures were a result of a WBC role where he worked “more like a reliever.”
In Japan, though, his fastball velocity did tick up this year to a career-high 147.7 kilometers (91.8 miles) per hour, according to Japan pro baseball data site Delta Graphs, with exceptional spin that should make it extremely effective.
Imanaga led the CL with 174 strikeouts in 2023 while posting a 7-4 record with a 2.80 ERA in 22 games.
“If someone has a dream he wants to realize, and we think he has the ability to achieve it, we want to support that,” DeNA executive Tatsuhiro Hagiwara said.
DeNA’s first-round pick in the 2015 draft threw a no-hitter on June 7, 2022, against the Nippon Ham Fighters and has a 64-50 career record with a 3.18 ERA over eight seasons, all with the BayStars.
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Last week, Ohtani announced on his Instagram account that he is donating youth baseball gloves to every elementary school in Japan, roughly 60,000 gloves to approximately 20,000 schools.
“I hope that through baseball, kids can energetically enjoy spending their days,” the post read. “I look forward to playing baseball one day with someone who used one of these gloves as a child.”