Yoshinobu Yamamoto of the Orix Buffaloes applauds fans after the Japan Series Game One at Jingu Stadium on October 22, 2022 in Tokyo, Japan. (Photo by The Asahi Shimbun via Getty Images)
World Baseball Network
Yoshinobu Yamamoto of the Orix Buffaloes has won the Eiji Sawamura Award, the Nippon Professional Baseball equivalent of the Cy Young Award in Major League Baseball, for the third consecutive season.
With the NPB posting season rapidly approaching, another Sawamura award will likely drive up the price for an MLB club to sign the Japanese right-hander, possibly above the $200 million mark.
Masaichi Kaneda, who was inducted into the Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame in 1988, is the only other pitcher to win the award three straight years, doing so from 1956-58 with the Kokutetsu Swallows.
Yamamoto has won the pitching triple crown in NPB each of the last three seasons, leading the league in strikeouts, wins, and ERA, and is a top candidate to win the MVP Award in the Pacific League, one of the two leagues in NPB, this season. He went 16-6 with a 1.21 ERA and 169 strikeouts in 164 innings of work this season.
Multiple MLB clubs have scouted Yamamoto in anticipation of making the Japanese star a lucrative offer to play in North America. New York Yankees general manager Brian Cashman was in attendance when Yamamoto threw a no-hitter in September. It was the second consecutive season Yamamoto threw a no-hitter, a feat previously accomplished by Eiji Sawamura, the award’s namesake, in 1936 and 1937 and by Tadashi Kameda in 1940 and 1941.
Despite his stellar performance in the regular season, Yamamoto has looked shaky during the 2023 NPB Playoffs. In his first start in game one of the Climax Series against the Chiba Lotte Marines, Yamamoto allowed five runs, and he went 5.2 innings and allowed 10 hits and seven earned runs in game one of the 2023 Japan Series, which Orix lost 8-0 to the Hanshin Tigers.
Still, MLB general managers want Yamamoto.
“Yeah, obviously players internationally who haven’t been posted. Can’t really comment on potential pursuits until they actually reach that point,” San Francisco Giants general manager Farhan Zaidi explained on NBC Sports Bay Area following a press conference introducing new manager Bob Melvin. “But we’re doing homework on anybody who might be available this offseason. Obviously, the players you mentioned are two of the top players in their respective leagues and we’re obviously monitoring what’s happening with them and making sure we have our evaluations really really down.”
In an October 27 article, Mike Puma of the New York Post reported that a source within the front office of an MLB team that intends to be in the running for Yamamoto’s services said that the bidding is expected to “start somewhere in the $200 million range for six or seven years.”
If so, that would eclipse the record $155 million contract for a Japanese pitcher leaving Japan, paid by the New York Yankees to Masahiro Tanaka in 2014. The New York Mets signed starter Kodai Senga to a five-year, $75 million contract via the posting system following the 2023 season.
Yamamoto has had a long season that started with Japan’s third win at the World Baseball Classic and will likely conclude with the 2023 Japan Series, where his Orix Buffaloes are looking to repeat as NPB champions.
“It wasn’t all good,” he told the Japan Times. “There were various problem areas as well, but at the end of the season, the team did win the pennant. I didn’t have any injury trouble, and I was able to deliver some good performances. I credit my practice regimen for that.”