Nine International Free Agents In Demand By MLB Teams This Offseason

Outfielder Lee Jung-Hoo of the Kiwoom Heroes runs to first base in the bottom of the fifth inning during the Korean Baseball Organization (KBO) League opening game between Kiwoom Heroes and Lotte Giants at Gocheok Skydome on April 02, 2022 in Seoul, South Korea. Lee is available to MLB teams as a free agent this offseason. (Photo by Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images)

By Julian Guilarte
World Baseball Network

Japanese Pitcher Yoshinobu Yamamoto headlines every list of notable MLB international Free agents this offseason, but there are other names that fans should know.

Shota Imanaga, Yuki Matsui, and Naoyuki Uwasawa are three other Japanese pitchers who will also be posted by their Nippon Professional Baseball teams. 

Cuban pitcher Yariel Rodriguez pitched in the NPB for three seasons from 2020-22 and is eligible to sign with MLB teams this offseason. 

Korean outfielder Jung-hoo Lee and Korean relief pitcher Woo-suk Go are expected to be posted by their KBO teams soon. 

Yoshinobu Yamamoto – Yamamoto, 25, was the best pitcher in the NPB last season, winning his third straight triple crown. The righty led the NPB Pacific League in strikeouts, wins, and ERA. Yamamoto went 17-6, pitched 171 innings, with 176 strikeouts, and an ERA of 1.16. Yamamoto has pitched all seven of his NPB seasons from 2017-23 with the Orix Buffaloes. His career numbers are 967.2 innings pitched, 986 strikeouts, and 1.72 ERA, and he has pitched two no-hitters including one this past season against the Chiba Lotte Marines. 

Yamamoto pitched for team Japan in the 2021 Olympics and helped lead them to a gold medal in Tokyo. Yamamoto also helped Japan win the 2023 WBC. Yamamoto threw seven innings, with 12 strikeouts, and an ERA of 2.45 in the WBC. He was posted on November 20 according to New York Post columnist Joel Sherman. Major League Baseball teams have a 45-day period to agree with Yamamoto, and he can sign no later than January 4, 2024, at 5 p.m. EST. 

Shota Imanaga – Imanaga, 30, is a left-handed pitcher who has pitched in the NPB and WBC for Japan. Imanaga pitched for the Yokohama DeNA BayStars last season. Imanaga pitched 159 innings, with 188 strikeouts, and an ERA of 2.66. In eight NPB seasons from 2016-23, Imanaga has thrown 1129.2 innings and notched 1183 strikeouts with an ERA of 3.18. 

Imanaga pitched in the 2023 WBC. He allowed two runs in six innings with seven strikeouts. He pitched two innings of one-run ball while striking out two in the 3-2 championship win against the USA at LoanDepot Park in Miami, FL. Imanaga is expected to be posted between today and November 27, per reporter Mark Feinsand. 

Yuki Matsui – Matsui, 28, is a left-handed pitcher who has pitched 10 seasons in NPB. He has saved 236 games for the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles. Last season, he made 39 appearances, pitching 57 innings, with 72 strikeouts, an ERA of 1.57, and 39 saves. He is a five-time all-star in the NPB. Between 2014 and 2023, he has thrown 704 innings, 941 strikeouts, and an ERA of 2.43. Matsui is a free agent and is free to sign with any MLB or NPB team. 

Naoyuki Uwasawa – Uwasawa, 29, is a right-hander who has pitched for the Nippon-Ham Fighters since 2013. Last season, Uwasawa threw 170 innings with 124 strikeouts, and an ERA of 2.96. In his career, he has thrown 1,118.1 innings, 913 strikeouts, and an ERA of 3.58. He is a three-time NPB All-Star, including last season. On October 28, MLB Network reporter Jon Morosi reported that Uwasawa would be posted. He is also considering a minor League deal per the Yakyu Cosmopolitan. 

Yariel Rodriguez – Rodriguez, 26, is a right-handed pitcher who was born in Cuba. He pitched in Cuba for five years from 2015-19. Rodriguez went over to the NPB in 2020 and played with the Chunichi Dragons. Last season, he pitched 55 innings for the Chunichi Dragons striking out 60 batters, with an ERA of 1.15. Rodriguez also pitched for Cuba in the 2023 WBC, throwing 7.1 innings with 10 strikeouts and two runs allowed. Francys Romero of reported that Rodriguez was officially a free agent on November 3. Romero also reported that he threw an intrasquad game in the Dominican Republic on November 20 with MLB scouts on hand. 

Woo-suk Go – Go, 25, has been a right-handed pitcher for the LG Twins in the KBO for the last seven seasons, and led the KBO in saves between 2019-23 with 139. Last season, Go pitched 44 innings, with 59 strikeouts, 15 saves, and an ERA of 3.68. The LG Twins agreed to post Go to MLB clubs on November 22, per Jee-ho Yoo of Yonhap News. The LG Twins can hold onto Go if they aren’t happy with the offers they receive from MLB clubs. 

Jung-hoo Lee – Jung-hoo Lee, 25, is a left-handed hitting outfielder who has been in the KBO for the last seven seasons. He spent his last five seasons from 2019-23 with the Kiwoom Heroes and can play all three outfield positions – and has won five KBO Gold Gloves to prove it. Lee only played 85 games last season due to a fractured ankle. He hit six home runs, with 45 RBI, and an OPS of .863 last season. Lee won the KBO MVP in 2022. His career numbers are 65 home runs, 515 RBI, 69 stolen bases, and an OPS of .898. 

Lee played for Korea in the 2023 WBC and hit two doubles, drove in five runs, and had one steal while posting a batting average of .429. He has yet to be posted for MLB teams. 

Erick Fedde – Fedde, 31, won the KBO triple crown this past season for the NC Dinos. He led the league in wins with 20, strikeouts with 209, and an ERA of 2.00. Fedde won the Choi Dong-Won Award, which is given to the best KBO starting pitcher of the season. Fedde made his KBO debut this season and was drafted by the San Diego Padres in the second round of the 2011 MLB draft. 

Fedde made his MLB debut with the Washington Nationals in 2017 and pitched six seasons in the nation’s capital. He’s thrown 454 career innings in the Major Leagues, with 352 strikeouts and an ERA of 5.41. Fedde is now ready to make the comeback to MLB and is free to sign with any team. MLB reporter Jon Heyman reported that Fedde was receiving interest from MLB teams on November 7.

J.B. Wendelken – Wendelken, 30, is a right-handed relief pitcher who pitched in the NPB for Yokohama DeNA BayStars last season. Wendelken made his NPB debut this past season, pitching 62.2 innings with 57 strikeouts and an ERA of 1.58. He was drafted by the Boston Red Sox in the 13th round of the 2012 MLB Draft. 

He spent seven seasons in MLB with the Oakland Athletics, and the Arizona Diamondbacks. His career MLB numbers include 159 innings pitched, 151 strikeouts, and an ERA of 4.00. Wendelken is eligible to sign with MLB teams or return to the NPB. 

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