Do the Cardinals still have a chance to land Yoshinobu Yamamoto?

Can the Cardinals land the NPB superstar? Could they even be considered a likely landing spot?
Republic of Korea v Japan - Baseball - Olympics: Day 12
Republic of Korea v Japan - Baseball - Olympics: Day 12 / Koji Watanabe/GettyImages
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So, could this even happen?

It’s obvious why the Cardinals should want a pitcher like Yamamoto. Even if he resembles Tanaka more than Darvish, he’d be a huge help to a rotation that, while significantly improved, still needs reinforcements. Yamamoto and Sonny Gray would make an excellent duo at the front of a pitching staff that could sneakily compete with the best rotations in the National League. But, many fans have been quick to dismiss dreams of Yamamoto as just that - dreams. They suggest the Cardinals won’t spend on him for a number of reasons. They claim the Cardinals don’t give out big contracts, a myth that has been debunked both by Josh Jacobs and the Noot News Podcast. They also claim the Cardinals don’t have the budget space, another myth that can easily be debunked

The only reason the Cardinals can’t land Yamamoto is if they decide not to, and though that is a likely outcome, it doesn’t mean they can’t bring him to St. Louis. Over the past few weeks, several bits of information have emerged, alluding to the possibility that the Cardinals are in fact pursuing Yamamoto. So, let’s review the evidence. 

Firstly, the Cardinals’ pursuit of Yamamoto at the Winter Meetings generated buzz among many in the industry.

"From outsiders perspective - please keep that in mind - there were a few officials not with the Cardinals at the GM Meetings who thought the Cardinals were the quiet favorite to sign Yamamoto, and those same people at the Winter Meetings thought the market had soared beyond their reach."

Derrick Goold

This quote is a bit convoluted. But, what I'm getting is that the Cardinals were an active participant in discussions with and about Yamamoto in Nashville. Though nothing came together, some executives left the meetings with the belief that the Cardinals remained in the running. Some of these executives, whose own clubs had dropped out of the bidding war, believed that the Cardinals had quietly become the favorite to sign the Japanese phenom. 

Then, there’s Yamamoto’s friendship with Lars Nootbaar. This is well-documented, so I won’t spend too much time on it. Since participating in the 2023 WBC together, Lars and Yoshinobu have become close friends. They’re often seen together on social media. Many players coming from overseas have openly discussed how difficult the transition can be. Kwang Hyun Kim, a KBO pitcher the Cardinals signed late in 2019, found MLB success but returned to the KBO to be closer to his family. While Nootbaar and Yamamoto aren’t directly related, a strong, established friendship could make the transition to MLB and life in the United States easier. 

Even more interesting are these comments from John Mozeliak. At a press conference on December 17th, Mozeliak pushed back against assumptions that the Cardinals were done augmenting and improving their roster. At one point, he seemed to imply that they were more interested in adding a starter than a bullpen arm. He then hinted that the club could be active before the holidays begin. Perhaps they make a move between now and December 25th. 

Lastly, the off-season trajectory suggests they’re not finished. The Cardinals demonstrated aggressiveness early in the off-season, pouncing on the starting market and acquiring three starters by the end of November. With Gibson and Lynn in the fold, it’s unlikely they sign another back-end option. So, assuming Mozeliak remains actively engaged in the starter market, they’re probably looking at frontline options. Now, Glasnow, the best fit for the Cardinals via trade, has found a home in Los Angeles and though Cease remains an option, he’ll probably cost the Cardinals Brendan Donovan or Nolan Gorman. The Cardinals could get aggressive again and jump ahead of competitors sometime in the next week to sign yet another free-agent starter. Hopefully, that starter is Yoshinobu Yamamoto.