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Where EAST meets the Northwest

NEW DODGER. Yoshinobu Yamamoto speaks during his introduction as a new member of the Los Angeles Dodgers baseball team on December 27, 2023 in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

From The Asian Reporter, V34, #01 (January 1, 2024), page 15.

Dodgers and free-agent pitcher Yoshinobu Yamamoto finalize their 12-year deal

By Greg Beacham

The Associated Press

LOS ANGELES — The Los Angeles Dodgers have finalized their 12-year deal with right-hander Yoshinobu Yamamoto, teaming the prized free agent with Shohei Ohtani in their prolific winter spending spree.

The Dodgers didn’t disclose the value of the deal they announced late in December, but several media reports have tagged it at $325 million. That would be the largest and longest contract ever guaranteed to a major league pitcher.

The 25-year-old Yamamoto has been Japan’s most dominant pitcher over the past few seasons, and he was coveted by teams across the majors after he elected to leave the Orix Buffaloes this offseason. The big-budget, pitching-poor Dodgers landed him with another mammoth December deal after signing two-way AL MVP Ohtani to a $700-million contract and signing right-hander Tyler Glasnow to a $136.5-million, five-year deal after his acquisition from Tampa Bay.

"I’d like to thank everyone in the Orix organization, the Dodger organization, and all the people close to me who have given me so much support throughout this free-agent process," Yamamoto said in a statement. "I am truly excited to wear Dodger Blue and can’t wait to play in front of a packed Dodger Stadium."

The Dodgers are getting a 5’10" right-hander widely regarded as the world’s best pitcher outside North America — and one with potential to become a major league ace after a stellar start to his career in Japan.

Yamamoto has posted spectacular numbers in Japan’s top league in recent years, winning three straight Most Valuable Player awards in the Nippon Pacific League. He went 16-6 with a 1.21 Earned Run Average (ERA) while striking out 169 and walking just 28 this year, winning the Japanese pitching triple crown by leading the league in wins, strikeouts, and ERA.

"You don’t win three MVP awards by the age of 25 without an exceptional combination of talent, work ethic, and mental toughness," Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman said. "He’s an elite pitcher with an impressive dedication to his craft who will only become more dynamic in a Dodger uniform. We are thrilled for him to be a mainstay at the top of our starting rotation for years to come."

Yamamoto’s six-pitch repertoire includes a dependable splitter, an effective four-seam fastball, and a vicious curveball, all thrown with excellent command.

He has thrown two no-hitters in the past two years, and he has a 1.72 ERA in his career. Yamamoto is exceptionally good at limiting his opponents’ power, allowing just 36 homers over his seven seasons in Japan — including just two in 164 innings last season.

The contracts given out by the Dodgers to Ohtani, Yamamoto, and Glasnow are potentially worth well over $1.1 billion — and Los Angeles also will owe a posting fee around $50 million for signing Yamamoto — but the two Japanese stars generate significant international revenue that will offset the cost of the deals. And Los Angeles is one of the majors’ richest teams under Guggenheim Baseball Management ownership led by Mark Walter.

The three players are joining one of the most consistent winners in recent major league history. Los Angeles has had 13 straight winning seasons, made 11 consecutive playoff appearances, and won at least 100 games in five of the past six full major league campaigns, winning three NL pennants and the 2020 World Series title.

But the Dodgers were in significant need of pitching after a dismal series of injuries and setbacks for a roster led by returning sluggers Mookie Betts and Freddie Freeman.

Los Angeles still won 100 games in 2023 even though injury-plagued Clayton Kershaw was its only starting pitcher who threw more than 125 innings or posted a qualifying ERA lower than 3.75, but the Dodgers were swept out of the division series by eventual NL champion Arizona.

Yamamoto and Glasnow will be immediate additions to the Dodgers’ rotation, while Ohtani is highly unlikely to pitch in 2024 after undergoing a second elbow surgery in the offseason. Kershaw is a free agent who recently had shoulder surgery that he said will likely keep him out of the majors until summer.

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