As if Cardinals fans couldn't love Lars Nootbaar and Nolan Arenado anymore than they already do, the two have found their way to Japan to watch free-agent-to-be and Japanese sensation Yoshinobu Yamamoto's playoff start for the Orix Buffaloes on Wednesday.
The Cardinals have already been linked to Yoshinobu Yamamoto by multiple outlets this offseason, with Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch pointing out a variety of unique links the Cardinals have to Yamamoto and his current club. The Cardinals have heavily invested in the Japanese market in recent years, including a scout they hired this last year who is known for closing deals with talent from Japan. The Cardinals have a strong business relationship with the Orix Buffaloes as well, and to top it all off, Arenado and Yamamoto have the same agent.
Yamamoto is probably the most exciting player to come out of Japan other than Shohei Ohtani. He just turned 25 recently, and just won the pitching Triple Crown in Japan (league leader in wins, ERA, and strikeouts), finishing the regular season 17-6 with a 1.16 ERA and 176 SO in 171 innings of work. He is an elite talent who will likely get paid as one this offseason, meaning the Cardinals will really have to pony up to acquire him.
I'm on a weekly podcast called the Noot News Podcast with Redbird Rants contributors Andrew Wang and Sandy McMillian (link to the podcast here), and Wang pointed out some really interesting notes about the current state of Japanese baseball and how Yamamoto may translate to Major League Baseball.
While Yamamoto's 9.3 SO/9 won't blow anyone away, hitting philosophy in Japan is far different than Major League Baseball. While organizations in the United States prioritize power and on-base skills, Japan still has a huge emphasis on having a contact-first approach, which limits strikeouts by quite a bit. For example, Kodai Senga saw his strikeout rate rise from 9.8 SO/9 in Japan last year to 10.9 SO/9 with the Mets in 2023. This also makes Yamamoto's 0.86 WHIP all the more impressive.
While it may prove difficult to outbid teams like the Mets, Dodgers, Yankees, or whoever else finds themselves in the bidding for Yamamoto, the Cardinals should be serious about their attempt to sign him, as he not only has a potentially long career ahead of him at age 25, but he may end up being the most talented pitcher of the bunch available this offseason as well. If you're going to swing big, why not go for the best?