Rival teams had taken the Cardinals as a serious contender for Yoshinobu Yamamoto

While Yoshinobu Yamamoto's price continues to skyrocket past the Cardinals' price range, St. Louis has been viewed as a serious contender in the sweepstakes.

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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The St. Louis Cardinals have made five additions to their pitching staff already this offseason. While they are mainly focused on adding more arms to their bullpen, there is still hope that they will add another significant arm to their rotation.

One of those arms that has been linked to them this offseason is Japanese sensation Yoshinobu Yamamoto. The 25-year-old right-hander has been historically good over in Japan in recent years, and every large market in baseball is hoping to add him to the top of their rotation on a long-term deal.

I recently did a deep dive into all of the things the Cardinals have done to position themselves for Yamamoto over the last year or so, and behind the scenes, their work in the Japanese market and with Yamamoto specifically was compelling to both myself and those covering the team. I talked with Jeff Jones on the Noot News Podcast a few weeks ago, and he saw many of those connections and had been told that there were people in the Cardinals' front office "screaming" for Yamamoto.

On top of all of that, this tidbit from Derrick Goold on Monday goes to show that other teams were impressed as well.

In Goold's weekly chat over at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, he mentioned that there were a few officials not a part of the Cardinals organization at the GM Meetings who saw St. Louis as the quiet favorite to sign Yamamoto. Unfortunately, those same people at the Winter Meetings believed the price had gone beyond what the Cardinals could afford. Goold could not confirm whether or not the Cardinals were going to be one of the teams meeting with Yamamoto as the sweepstakes comes to an end, but if you read the tea leaves, it would seem as though they will (or have) bowed out now that his price is where it is.

Here's why I find all of this significant still. Before the offseason, the rumored price point for Yamamoto was somewhere in the $175 million range. Pricey, but not a crazy number by any means. By the time the GM Meetings came, that number was looking more like $250 million for the superstar. The fact that officials from other clubs believed the Cardinals were the favorite even at that price point should say a lot about their growing openness to play in those free-agent waters.

Now it sounds like Yamamoto will be pushing or surpassing $300 million, something that it does not sound like the Cardinals are going to do. I am very much of the opinion that they should be stretching themselves and going there, especially for someone as good as Yamamoto at his age. If he truly does get over that number though, it'll be disappointing to see the Cardinals refrain from that, but I also don't know if I can say I'll be "mad" about it either.

We have to be honest with ourselves, even if Yamamoto is still worth the price tag, I can't think of another player who's seen their market rise by almost $150 million in a two-month period. Sure, Shohei Ohtani just got $200 million more than most people thought, but he's Ohtani, a literal once-in-a-lifetime player. I don't have concerns about Yamamoto's stuff translating to the big leagues, but I get why some people would at least have some question marks, and with the fragile nature of pitching, investing $300 million is quite the risk.

The Cardinals will have to stretch themselves to get starters like Yamamoto though, and next offseason will feature a stacked starting pitching free-agent class if they want to try again. I'm very encouraged by the Cardinals' willingness to play in the waters even when that number was north of $200 million, but I'm encouraged even more by how teams are taking the Cardinals seriously in the elite free-agent market, and that their work in Asia appears to be paying off.

There have been massive doubts cast on the idea of players like Yamamoto coming to a city like St. Louis rather than the East or West Coast in recent years, but it appears that at least with Yamamoto, the Cardinals were a real destination. Yamamoto won't be the last elite free agent from Japan to come stateside, as sometime in the next few years, Roki Sasaki will make his way stateside and is supposed to be even better than Yamamoto.

Yes, with the way Yamamoto's market is trending, the Cardinals will have to get into crazy waters to sign Sasaki if he is posted in 2026 like Yamamoto. I do wonder though if having years to prepare for his number to go into the $300 million range, rather than having the market turn that direction in under two months, would make it easier for the Cardinals to come to grips with that.

There have been reports out of Japan in recent days that Sasaki would like to be posted sooner than 2026, something his club is unlikely to do, barring one specific scenario. Shohei Ohtani was able to come stateside at a young age because of a clause he had in his contract. There is a belief that the 22-year-old Sasaki has that same clause, and if so, he can come to the United States at any time.

One of the benefits of having Sasaki come earlier than 2026 is that there would be a cap on the contract he could receive, making the bidding below $5 million for his services. This virtually puts every team in baseball in his market, but should give the Cardinals an advantage since they cannot be outbid by other clubs.

Circling back to Yamamoto, there still isn't definitive reporting that the Cardinals are out on him. Until that happens, there's still hope they are lurking in the shadows (like they tend to do) and ready to shock the baseball world. I still hope this is their plan, as Yamamoto makes so much sense for the plans to contend in 2024, as well as their long-term future.

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