Roki Sasaki of Japan pitches during the 2023 World Baseball Classic Semifinal game against Team Mexico at loanDepot Park on March 20, 2023 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Christopher Pasatieri/Getty Images)
By Conor Liguori
World Baseball Network
Right-handed pitcher Roki Sasaki signed a one-year contract with the Chiba Lotte Marines of Nippon Professional Baseball on Monday, per Stephen Wade of the Associated Press.
According to Yakyu Cosmopolitan on X, Sasaki will earn 80 million yen, or about $540,000 U.S. dollars, for the 2024 season.
Sasaki, 22, started his NPB career with the Marines in 2021 and quickly became one of the best pitchers in Japan. He has posted a career 1.90 ERA in 51 games with 395 strikeouts in 303.2 innings. Sasaki’s fastball usually clocks in around 100 mph, and he threw a perfect game against the Orix Buffaloes in 2022, the first perfect game in NPB since Hiromi Makihara in 1994.
There were rumors earlier in the winter that Sasaki wanted to be posted by the Marines this offseason. Still, Major League Baseball posting rules state that foreign players must have played six professional baseball seasons and be at least 25 years old. Sasaki has played just three seasons in Nippon Professional Baseball and will turn 25 in November 2026.
According to Kyodo News, Sasaki strongly desires to play in Major League Baseball and clarified his intentions at a recent press conference announcing the contract.
“I have the desire to play in the U.S. major leagues in the future,” Sasaki said at the press conference. “I’ve been having proper communication with the club every year. I believe the club understands it, too.”
Kyodo News also reported that Sasaki was asked when he would like to switch to MLB, but he did not give a specific response.
“For 2024, I believe it’s important to play well in the season that’s right in front of me,” Sasaki said Saturday.
Like his Japan teammate Yoshinobu Yamamoto, Sasaki should receive plenty of MLB interest when he is posted. Yamamoto was rumored to be interested in playing for the New York Yankees, among other organizations, but ultimately signed a 12-year contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers worth $325 million. Whether Sasaki deserves a similar contract remains to be seen and heavily relies upon his performance on the mound during the next few seasons.
Aside from any contract conversations, there is no denying Sasaki’s talent with a baseball in hand when healthy. He was limited to 15 games during the 2023 NPB season due to a season-ending left-oblique muscle injury in July. Still, he managed to maintain a high level of success in the first half of the year. Sasaki posted a 1.78 ERA and struck out 135 in 91 innings.
Sasaki’s Major League Baseball future is up in the air, and his focus is now solely on playing for the Chiba Lotte Marines in 2024. He expressed happiness with his new one-year contract at the press conference.
“I left it up to my agent, who went over matters meticulously with the team and arrived at a contract both sides could be satisfied with,” Sasaki said.
Sasaki and the Marines look to return to the postseason in 2024 after losing to the Orix Buffaloes four games to one in the 2023 Pacific League Final Stage. They will play their first 2024 NPB regular season game on the road against the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters on March 29 at 5:30 a.m. ET.