I think Yoshinobu Yamamoto is going to be an absolute star when he makes his debut for the Los Angeles Dodgers. I also believe that the contract he got, 12 years, $325 million with a $50 million posting fee for a starting pitcher, was too great of a risk for the St. Louis Cardinals to take on. Both of these statements can be true at the same time.
Please read that statement carefully. That long and that large of a deal for a starting pitcher is a risk that I do not believe the Cardinals can afford to take. I did not say the Cardinals should not spend big money like that, or even give out years like that to a position player, but $375 million for a pitcher and locking yourselves to him for 12 years is an investment that very few markets in this league can afford to take.
Why do I say that? Aside from the fair concerns that Yamamoto has never thrown a big league pitch before, the risk of injury and his career going sideways because of it is something that an organization like the Cardinals just cannot afford to take on. If things went south for Yamamoto a few years into the contract, the Cardinals would be paying him $27 million a year through the 2036 season. The Cardinals are pushing a $200 million payroll for the first time in franchise history, and that would mean 14% of that payroll each year is a sunk cost.
No, I don't believe that's what is going to happen to Yamamoto, but the risk is real with pitchers. During any given start or bullpen session, an elbow can give out, a shoulder can tear, and a pitcher can lose 2-3 seasons of their career in an instant, and may not return to their former selves or may keep getting injured. Take a look at the. best pitchers in baseball 12 years ago. Only a few of them remain even good pitchers today.
Sure, position players can break and become terrible contracts too, but the risk (at least injury-wise) is far less concerning than that of a starting pitcher. Remember at the top when I said do not read this wrong and say I don't think the Cardinals can hand out 12-year, $300 million deals to anyone? Bryce Harper got a 13-year, $330 million deal from the Phillies before the 2019 season, and that's a deal I would've done if I were the Cardinals in a heartbeat, and I think it's malpractice that they did not make that offer to Harper.
I was a big fan of the idea of the Cardinals adding Yamamoto when his price point was just $150m-$175m a few months ago. I was still a fan when that number was closer to $250m a few weeks ago. But almost $400 million for a starting pitcher is wild to me, and I just don't see how the Cardinals could compete with that. The Dodgers can afford risks on players like this, and it's why they gave Tyler Glasnow the kind of extension he received as well.
The Cardinals should be aggressive in pursuing a starting pitcher via trade this offseason. I'm not a huge fan of a long-term commitment to the best starting pitchers still available in free agency, but in future years, I definitely think they need to be ready to hand out five to seven-year deals to top-end guys. Although I would've loved having Yamamoto in St. Louis, I don't blame them for sitting out of his market at that price, but they must be aggressive in finding another starter for the top of this rotation.