The Japanese pitching market has been slow to develop this offseason. This is likely because premier Japanese arm Yoshinobu Yamamoto is waiting for two-way superstar Shohei Ohtani to land before he makes his final decision. After a whirlwind of flight tracking, dinner reservations, and false reports on Friday, we've learned nothing more about where Ohtani will end up. Even with the market dead silent, a very interesting story is developing overseas in Japan.
According to a report posted by Yahoo Japan, 22-year-old Lotte Marines flamethrower Roki Sasaki has requested to be posted to Major League Baseball. Sasaki, nicknamed "the Monster of the Reiwa Era" introduced himself to American baseball fans in March during Japan's World Baseball Classic semifinal match against Mexico. His velocity topped out at 101.9 mph, and he threw 26 fastballs over 100 mph. Only three current MLB starting pitchers have done that as many times in one game in the entire pitch-tracking era: Hunter Greene, Jacob deGrom, and Nathan Eovaldi.
At just 22, Sasaki already has quite the NPB resume. At age 20, Sasaki threw a perfect game, the youngest by any pitcher in NPB history. It was the first perfect game in NPB since 1994. Then, in his following start, he nearly did the impossible, throwing 8 perfect innings to open the game before he was pulled from the game by his manager who was concerned about Sasaki's pitch count and did not want the young right-hander to injure his arm.
Adding a 22-year-old with such raw talent would be incredible for any Major League team. Of course, Yoshinobu Yamamoto has more NPB accolades, but at age 26, he's had more time to develop and improve. Sasaki's talent surpasses anything we've seen from Japanese pitching. He projects to surpass Yamamoto, Tanaka, Darvish, and Ohtani (the pitcher), and easily could become the best pitcher in the world. If the Cardinals are interested in the Japanese market and if Sasaki is posted, the choice between him and Yamamoto is clear.
Getting Sasaki's services won't be as simple as winning a bidding war, however. In similar fashion to Shohei Ohtani, there's a limit on how much Sasaki can sign for. He'd only be able to make $4.75 million and would be treated as a rookie prospect. Obviously, that's a massive bargain and all teams would offer him that much, so the team he signs with will be decided based on his own interest just like Ohtani.
Sasaki's posting request will likely fall on deaf ears, unfortunately, as the posting fee the Marines would receive would only be $950,000. Should Sasaki wait until he is able to sign for more money, the posting fee would be significantly higher. It's extremely unlikely the Marines will post him outright.
However, Sasaki may have a clause in his contract like Ohtani's deal with the Fighters that allows him to leave his contract for the Major Leagues whenever he wants. Should that be the case, the 2024 offseason just got a lot more interesting. If Sasaki makes the jump to MLB now he'll be affordable for any team, so the Cardinals just need to convince him to sign in St. Louis.