With the World Series over and free agency set to start in just a few days, the Cardinals are being linked to more and more of the top free-agent starting pitchers. It appears the front office is truly serious about their intentions to acquire three top starting pitchers. Now the Cardinals have been listed as one of the top suitors for one of the most intriguing and probably best starter available, Yoshinobu Yamamoto. Both MLB.com writer Jon Morosi and MLB Network insider Jon Heyman have linked the Cardinals to the Japanese ace.
According to Morosi, the Cardinals, Yankees, Dodgers, and Red Sox are viewed as the top suitors for the recently crowned 3-time Sawamura Award winner. Heyman has listed the Mets, D-backs, Tigers, and Cubs as also interested. With a heavy posting fee, it's largely unclear how much money Yamamoto will command, but most predict his contract will be significantly larger than Kodai Senga's 5-year $75 million deal with the Mets. With Yamamoto younger and more skilled than Senga, he should receive a longer deal at a higher AAV.
The Athletic's Jim Bowden projects Yamamoto will receive a 7-year $211 million deal on top of his posting fee. While some are skeptical Yamamoto's skillset will translate to American baseball as well as it has in Japan, he's done nothing but demonstrate his potential as one of the best pitchers in the world. Despite a dead-ball era in Japan, Yamamoto has posted the highest ERA+ in NPB ever prior to making the jump to MLB, ranking higher than Masahiro Tanaka, Yu Darvish, and Shohei Ohtani.
One other concern regarding Yamamoto was his playoff struggles this season. In the NPB semifinal round, Yamamoto was shaky, tossing 7 innings allowing 5 runs on 10 hits and 2 walks. He suffered some bad BABIP luck during his start and his performance was still enough for the Orix Buffaloes to defeat the Chiba Lotte Marines. However, his first start of the Japan Series was abysmal. In only 5.2 innings, Yamamoto allowed 7 runs on 10 hits and 1 walk. Orix suffered an 8-0 blowout to the Hanshin Tigers and concerns about Yamamoto's abilities rose even more. At one point, I was worried Yamamoto was a "Japanese Clayton Kershaw," a phenomenal regular-season pitcher who struggled with Postseason play.
However, Yamamoto proved his doubters wrong in Game 6 of the Japan Series. With his team facing elimination, Yamamoto dazzled with a 1-run complete game leading Orix to a 5-1 victory. "We will see you tomorrow night." He showed up when needed most, tossed 138 pitches, and broke Yu Darvish's Japan Series record with 14 strikeouts. Expectations should of course not be too high for Yamamoto's first MLB season, but all signs point to his ability to succeed in the Majors. Most of the top Japanese stars have lived up to their large contracts, so we should expect similarly from him. If the Cardinals sign Yamamoto, he should headline the revamped rotation with no trouble.