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Dodgers sign Japanese star pitcher Yoshinobu Yamamoto for $325 million

World Baseball Classic Semifinals: Mexico v Japan Photo by Christopher Pasatieri/Getty Images

The Dodgers have a clear need for starting pitching, and decided to make a rare trip into the deep end of the free agent pool for an arm. Los Angeles reached agreement with Japanese right-hander Yoshinobu Yamamoto, per multiple reports.

Jeff Passan at ESPN reports the deal as $325 million over 12 years, and notes there are two opt-outs in the contract.

Jack Curry of YES Network was first to report a deal was close.

The Dodgers met with Yamamoto at Dodger Stadium on December 12, the day after finalizing their 10-year contract for Shohei Ohtani, Yamamoto’s WBC teammate. The Dodgers pulled out the big guns for that pitch meeting, including Ohtani, Mookie Betts, Freddie Freeman, Will Smith, and Bobby Miller in the process.

Yamamoto in each of the last three years won the Eiji Sawamura Award, given annually to the top starting pitcher in Nippon Professional Baseball. He posted a sub-2.00 ERA in each of those three seasons, including a sparkling 1.16 ERA in 171 innings for the Orix Buffaloes, with 176 strikeouts against only 28 walks.

Three Eiji Sawamura Awards for Yamamoto ties the record, along with Shigeru Sugishita (1951-52, 1954), Masaichi Kaneda (1956-58), Minoru Murayama (1959, 1965-66), and Masaki Saito (1989, 1995-96).

Yamamoto also won Pacific League MVP in each of the last three years as well.

In seven years with Orix in Japan, Yamamoto had a 1.72 ERA with 986 strikeouts and 216 walks in 967⅔ innings. At the World Baseball Classic in March, Yamamoto had a 2.45 ERA with 12 strikeouts in 7⅓ innings.

His stellar reputation in Japan, coupled with the fact that Yamamoto is the youngest free agent pitcher at only 25 years old, made his market robust. He was ranked either the second- or third-best free agent on the market this offseason at various national outlets.

The $325 total guarantee in Yamamoto’s contract is the largest for a pitcher in MLB history, surpassing Gerrit Cole’s nine-year, $324 million contract with the Yankees signed before the 2020 season. The previous Dodgers franchise record contract for pitchers was Clayton Kershaw’s $215 million, seven-year deal signed in 2014.

Yamamoto’s contract is the fifth starting-pitcher contract under the Andrew Friedman-led front office longer than three years. Three have come this offseason, with Ohtani getting 10 years and (eventually) $700 million for his two-way talents and Tyler Glasnow signing for five years and $136.5 million.

Kenta Maeda, himself a two-time Eiji Sawamura Award winner, signed an eight-year deal prior to 2016, but that was a very team-friendly deal that guaranteed only $25 million. Brandon McCarthy signed a four-year, $48 million contract before the 2015 season.

Yamamoto was posted by Orix on November 21, giving MLB teams until January 4 to sign the right-hander.

Per the working agreement between Major League Baseball and NPB, there is a fee MLB teams must pay to players who are posted from Japan. The fee, which is paid to the player’s NPB team, is determined based on the total guaranteed value of the contract:

  • 20 percent of the first $25 million
  • 17.5 percent of anything between $25-50 million
  • 15 percent of anything above $50 million

Teams must also pay, at a later date, a posting fee based on any bonuses, salary escalators, or options realized during the contract.

Based on Yamamoto’s $325 million deal with the Dodgers, LA will owe a posting fee of $50.625 million to the Orix Buffaloes. Usually, and especially so for an amount this large, the posting fee is split up into installments paid over time. After signing Kenta Maeda before the 2016 season, for instance, the Dodgers paid a preset $20 million to Hiroshima over 18 months.

Posting fees do not count against the competitive balance tax. But Yamamoto’s salary does. Both Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic and Jon Heyman of the New York Post report there are no deferrals in the deal. The average annual value of $27.08 million would put the Dodgers at roughly $280.8 million for 2024 for competitive balance tax purposes.