Target - Yoshinobu Yamamoto, Orix Buffaloes
Yamamoto’s success speaks for itself. I’ve covered his successes more in-depth in a different article, so to put it succinctly, he’s probably the best-starting pitcher available this offseason. Even better than Nola, Snell, and Gray. Coming off his third consecutive triple crown, where he led all of NPB in ERA, wins, and strikeouts, the 25-year-old starter will certainly command a hefty price but one that the Cardinals should be willing to match. Deadball era or not, Yamamoto’s 1.21 ERA and 0.884 WHIP are rightfully eye-popping. His stellar 9.3 K/9 and 1.5 BB/9 should also translate well to MLB where strikeout rate and walk rate tend to remain constant coming from NPB.
The “uncertainty” surrounding the top Japanese players has also cleared up tremendously in recent years, and Yamamoto should be the next in a long line of success stories. Comparing him to Darvish, Tanaka, Senga, and even Ohtani (as a pitcher) might even be selling him short. It’s possible he could be the best Japanese starting pitcher to ever reach MLB so far. (I’m looking at you, Roki Sasaki)
Yamamoto will be attached to a hefty posting fee from Orix, but unlike Nola or Snell, the Cardinals will not forfeit a draft pick by signing him. Moreover, he’s by far the youngest starter available on the free-agent market. At only age 25, it’s likely Yamamoto will continue to improve his craft just like the 23-year-old Shohei Ohtani when he arrived in 2018. Only time will tell just how good the young ace can be.