It was reported a while back by Yahoo Japan that 22-year-old Japanese phenom Roki Sasaki requested to be posted by the Chiba Lotte Marines this offseason to face the challenge of Major League Baseball early. Unfortunately, that never came to fruition, but reports are surfacing that Sasaki and the Marines are once again engaged in negotiations that could bring him to America several years before he was expected to be posted at age 25.
Because of the ludicrous contracts Shohei Ohtani and Yoshinobu Yamamoto received from the Los Angeles Dodgers this offseason, it would be almost impossible for the Cardinals to sign Roki Sasaki as an unrestricted free agent, so the Marines posting him early would change their chances dramatically.
Like Shohei Ohtani in 2017, Roki Sasaki would be treated like a Minor League prospect. The team that signs him as a restricted International free agent would have 3 years of control at pre-arb and 3 years of control in arbitration. This removes any financial burden from the team that signs Roki Sasaki, allowing him to choose any of the 30 MLB teams to sign with. So, all the Cardinals have to do is convince Sasaki to sign in St. Louis.
So, why would Sasaki want to come to St. Louis? Wouldn't the Dodgers be seen as an obvious choice? LA is building a superteam surrounded by Japanese talent, but Sasaki's decision won't be this simple. Historically, Japanese-born players have avoided each other because of cultural reasons surrounding players' ages. Yamamoto's desire to play with other Japanese players in America was distinctly unique. We can't say for sure, but it's more than likely Sasaki will try to avoid other Japanese-born players and find his spotlight rather than play in the shadows of Ohtani and Yamamoto.
Lars Nootbaar's connection with Samurai Japan and apparent close friendship with Roki Sasaki without the weight of being Japanese-born is a huge advantage for the Cardinals. Nootbaar notably lobbied hard for both the Cardinals and Yamamoto to land the 25-year-old ace in St. Louis. Financial reasons were obviously a factor in Yamamoto's decision to sign elsewhere, but that won't be a problem for Roki Sasaki.
With Sasaki's early posting to MLB seeming like a truer reality next offseason, the Cardinals need to act quickly and early to land his services. Let's hope Lars Nootbaar and the Cardinals' front office convince Roki to land in St. Louis, as it would be a franchise-altering move for years to come.