Rafu Wire Service Reports
The Japanese pitchers who will join and within Major League Baseball this winter have generated considerable interest for executives gathered for this year’s general managers’ meetings that concluded last Thursday.
Chief among these players is the Angels’ two-way superstar in free agency. Shohei Ohtani and the impending dispatch of the Orix Buffaloes ace Yoshinobu Yamamoto in what should be a seller’s market for entry-level launchers.
Yamamoto, a 25-year-old right-hander standing 5-foot-10, won the last three Sawamura Awards as Japan’s most impressive starting pitcher, and went 16-6 with a 1.21 ERA in 164 innings This year.
“There was a lot of discussion around the game about the relative scarcity of pitchers who can go deep in games,” said Farhan Zaidi, president of baseball operations for the San Francisco Giants. “So when guys are available and can give you 150, 200 innings, there’s a real premium on that.”
Even though Ohtani doesn’t plan to return to the pitcher’s mound until 2025 after undergoing elbow surgery this year, demand for him will likely remain high, San Diego Padres general manager AJ Preller said.
“He’s an incredible talent,” Preller said. “From afar, seeing, knowing, hearing about the work ethic, what he does, the attention to detail, my guess is he’s going to come back (from elbow surgery) and doing really special things.”
ESPN reported that the teams most aggressive in pursuing Ohtani are the Angels, Dodgers, Giants, New York Mets, New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox, Chicago Cubs, Rangers of Texas, the Toronto Blue Jays and the Seattle Mariners.
Jerry Dipoto, Mariners president of baseball operations, said he expected Yamamoto to also be in high demand.
“He’s an exceptional talent,” Dipoto said. “He has played on the biggest international stages and had a great career in Japan, and someone is going to be very lucky to see him come and sit at or near the top of their rotation.”
• • •
DeNA BayStars left-handed Shota Imanaga will attempt to sign with an MLB team this offseason through the posting system, the Central League club said Saturday. Imanaga’s impending availability has thrown more fuel into the MLB offseason with teams considering him as a No. 2 or No. 3 starter.
Sports website The Athletic estimates the DeNA BayStars left-hander, 30, could get a four-year contract worth a total of $52 million.
Imanaga impressed in his two innings as Japan’s starting pitcher and winner in March’s World Baseball Classic final against the United States.
The MLB.com article praised his split-fingered changeup, the pitch he used to knock out former National League MVP Paul Goldschmidt in the WBC Finals.
He also cited his average fastball speed during the WBC of 94.4 miles per hour as ranking him above the average speed of MLB left-handed starters.
However, Imanaga himself said this year that those numbers were the result of a role at WBC where he worked “more like a reliever.”
In Japan, however, his fastball velocity reached a career-high of 147.7 kilometers (91.8 miles) per hour this year, according to Japanese professional baseball data site Delta Graphs, with exceptional spin that should make it extremely effective.
Imanaga led the CL with 174 strikeouts in 2023 while going 7-4 with a 2.80 ERA in 22 games.
“If someone has a dream they want to achieve and we think they have the ability to achieve it, we want to support them,” said Tatsuhiro Hagiwara, director of DeNA.
DeNA’s first-round pick in the 2015 draft threw a no-hitter on June 7, 2022 against the Nippon Ham Fighters and has a career record of 64-50 with a 3.18 ERA over eight seasons, all with the BayStars.
• • •
Last week, Ohtani announced on his Instagram account that he would donate youth baseball gloves to every elementary school in Japan, amounting to approximately 60,000 gloves to approximately 20,000 schools.
“I hope that through baseball, children can spend their days with energy,” the message read. “I can’t wait to one day play baseball with someone who used one of these gloves as a kid.”