With Aaron Nola officially re-signing with the Philadelphia Phillies, the first major domino of the starting pitching market has fallen, and now all eyes turn to Orix Buffaloes' Yoshinobu Yamamoto.
In Derrick Goold's chat over at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, he addressed the Yamamoto rumors for the Cardinals, saying that multiple sources have told him that "Yamamoto is open to considering the Cardinals and St. Louis".
Goold has been on the Yamamoto connections for quite some time now, pointing out that the Cardinals have done a lot of legwork over the last 12 months to put themselves in a position to capitalize on the Japanese market, and specifically, Yamamoto.
Yamamoto's agent, Joel Wolfe, happens to be his best friend Lars Nootbaar's free agent as well as Nolan Arenado's agent. Wolfe has a good relationship with John Mozeliak, and he's advocated for St. Louis when Arenado was looking to leave Colorado. Wolfe also represents Giancarlo Stanton, and when I had Jeff Jones of the Belleville News-Democrat on the "Noot News Podcast" recently, he talked about how Wolfe advised Stanton to meet with the Cardinals and give them legitimate consideration, even as he wanted to be in New York. He also talked about how there are people within the Cardinals' front office who are advocating hard for a run at Yamamoto, so I highly recommend you check out that conversation here.
Outside of that agent connection, Cardinals special assistant Matt Slater, who has a working relationship with Yamamoto's team, Orix, and has played a major role in improving their ability to scout and build relationships in Japan. They also hired a full-time scout for Japan, Isao O'Jimi, to focus on the NPB and build relationships for the Cardinals
Even things like Yamamoto golfing with Nootbaar this offseason play into the Cardinals' ability to have a seat at the table in the Yamamoto sweepstakes. At this point, there are too many dots connecting Yamamoto and the Cardinals this offseason to ignore, and it's clear they'll at least have a seat at the table when it comes to negotiations and probable bidding processes.
At the end of the day, the Cardinals cannot control if Yamamoto wants to play for a large market or live on a specific coast, but they've done an incredible job setting themselves up to be a player with that legwork this past year, and if they make a strong bid, they should have a real shot. It remains to be seen whether or not they make a strong offer though.
While the Cardinals tend to stay away from mega-deals like this, they have made bids on guys like David Price and Jason Heyward in the past and were willing to bring in Stanton's mega-contract if he had waived his no-trade clause. One has to wonder if a 25-year-old phenom like Yamamoto could cause them to open up their pocketbooks once more.