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Cubs free agent target: Yoshinobu Yamamoto

He’s said to be the best NPB pitcher ever to come to MLB.

Photo by Eric Espada/Getty Images

Until recently, the Cubs have not had much luck with signing players from Nippon Pro Baseball (NPB) in Japan.

Kosuke Fukudome was (mostly) a bust. Kyuji Fujikawa and Koji Uehara, forgettable relievers. The Cubs did get some good performance from Yu Darvish, but he was a known quantity in MLB before he came to the Cubs.

In general, other than Darvish, Japanese pitchers have not fared well in MLB. Hideo Nomo did, for a time. Daisuke Matsuzaka was supposed to be dominant, but after his first two years he wasn’t very good.

So why would Yoshinobu Yamamoto be any different?

Because Yamamoto is said to be the best pitcher who’s ever come from Japan to MLB. Just look at his numbers! Over seven seasons in NPB, all with Orix, Yamamoto has posted a 1.82 ERA and 0.935 WHIP, with 922 strikeouts and just 206 walks in 897 innings. Translation: That’s 9.3 strikeouts and only 2.1 walks per nine innings. He doesn’t give up the long ball, either — just 36 in those 897 innings, 0.4 per nine innings. He’s won the Japanese equivalent of the Cy Young Award three years in a row.

The only NPB pitcher who’s come to MLB who’s even close to that is Darvish, who had a 1.99 ERA and 0.985 WHIP in seven seasons in Japan. Yamamoto’s K rate and HR rate there are better than Darvish’s.

Yamamoto turned 25 in August, so he’s almost exactly the same age as Darvish was when he came to MLB. Darvish posted a 3.27 ERA and 1.196 WHIP in his first three MLB seasons, with three All-Star selections and two top-10 Cy Young finishes, before he lost the entire 2015 season to Tommy John surgery.

Could Yamamoto be better than that in MLB? Sure, maybe, but remember that Japanese players do have an adjustment period to MLB. We’ve seen that from Seiya Suzuki over the last couple of years, and it does appear Suzuki has now turned the corner and could be a true star going forward.

MLB Trade Rumors says Yamamoto could get a nine-year deal worth $225 million. Nine years is an awfully long deal for a pitcher; you don’t know what’s going to happen going forward, including the possibility of TJS. That’s an AAV of $25 million. If Yamamoto pitches the way he did in Japan, that’s a bargain. It’s also a risk. The Cubs do have some interest, as Jed Hoyer did go scout Yamamoto in Japan last September, as well as other NPB players.

Would you do it?


Yoshinobu Yamamoto...

This poll is closed

  • 33%
    ... the Cubs should sign him to a deal like the one MLBTR proposed
    (227 votes)
  • 52%
    ... the Cubs should sign him, but to a deal different in years or dollars or both
    (354 votes)
  • 12%
    ... the Cubs should not sign him
    (86 votes)
  • 0%
    Something else (leave in comments)
    (1 vote)
668 votes total Vote Now