Relentless Dodgers Splash Cash To Add Yamamoto on $325 Million Mega-Deal

Yoshinobu Yamamoto
Yukihito Taguchi-USA TODAY Sports

Late Thursday night, while Shohei Ohtani was awkwardly smiling on the jumbotron at the Rams game in Los Angeles, the Dodgers were wrapping up the details on a massive, 12-year contract for 25-year-old Japanese righty Yoshinobu Yamamoto in the amount of $325 million. The Dodgers will also pay roughly $50 million in posting fees to Yamamoto’s former NPB team, the Orix Buffaloes, making the Dodgers’ total commitment a whopping $375 million, with $50 million of the deal to be paid via signing bonus. ESPN’s Jeff Passan reported that the contract also has two opt-outs, but we don’t yet know when in the deal they occur.

This is a huge deal in several manners of speaking. First, it is literally a huge deal, the largest-ever contract for a pitcher, eking past Gerrit Cole’s $324 million pact from 2019. Between the $700 million guaranteed to Ohtani and the $325 million heading to Yamamoto, the Dodgers have committed well over $1 billion dollars to free agents (spread out over the next decade-plus) already this offseason. For context, in 2019, the Royals sold for $1 billion. The Dodgers’ estimated payroll for 2024 now stands at $285 million, $50 million more than their 2023 mark.

Here are Dan’s ZiPS projections for Yamamoto. He passed along that the projection system would recommend a 12-year, $320 million deal for him.

ZiPS Projection – Yoshinobu Yamamoto
Year W L ERA G GS IP H ER HR BB SO ERA+ WAR
2024 14 7 3.52 26 26 171.3 130 67 22 35 167 118 3.8
2025 14 7 3.54 26 26 170.3 132 67 23 34 166 117 3.8
2026 14 7 3.54 26 26 173.0 135 68 23 33 168 117 3.8
2027 14 7 3.59 27 27 170.7 137 68 24 32 165 116 3.6
2028 14 7 3.69 27 27 170.7 140 70 25 32 163 113 3.4
2029 13 8 3.77 26 26 164.7 139 69 24 32 154 110 3.1
2030 12 8 3.78 24 24 157.3 134 66 23 31 145 110 3.0
2031 12 7 3.83 23 23 150.3 129 64 22 30 137 108 2.8
2032 11 7 3.88 22 22 141.3 123 61 21 29 126 107 2.5
2033 10 7 3.97 21 21 131.3 116 58 20 28 115 105 2.2
2034 9 6 4.15 19 19 121.3 109 56 19 27 104 100 1.8
2035 8 6 4.27 17 17 109.7 101 52 18 26 91 97 1.5

Projections systems like ZiPS tend to flatten and smooth the peaks and valleys of everyone’s performance, so think of this as a projected annual average for Yamamoto’s production. His peak years, which should begin immediately, are likely to be better than the front end of these projections.

To say that Yamamoto solidifies the Dodgers’ rotation is an understatement. He may be one of the 10 best starting pitchers on the planet right now, and he joins a staff that has recent-era Dodgers ace Walker Buehler returning from Tommy John surgery and also added monster-stuff righty Tyler Glasnow via trade with Tampa Bay. And Ohtani may be part of this rotation starting in 2025. If the Dodgers’ approach to 2023 was “Let the Kids Play,” their 2024 approach is “Let the Kids Fight for One of the Last Rotation Spots.” Promising young hurlers Bobby Miller, Emmet Sheehan, Gavin Stone, and other prospects will vie for the last two starting spots along with veteran Ryan Yarbrough. After injuries tore up their rotation last season and made them vulnerable in the playoffs, the Dodgers once again have the combination of depth and star power to contend, which will be even more true in 2025 if/when Ohtani and Dustin May return from their 2023 surgeries.

Yamamoto has been the best pitcher in Japan for the last several seasons, and he’s a virtual lock to be an impact MLB starter from the second he ties his spikes on our shores. In his walk year with Orix, he produced two more WAR than the next best NPB pitcher (Roki Sasaki) even though he threw 30 fewer innings (164) than he had in each of the last two seasons. He produced his third consecutive season with a sub-2.00 ERA, as well as a sterling 26.6% K%, 4.4% BB%, 53% GB%, a microscopic 1% HR/FB%, and a career-best 1.74 FIP.

A plus-plus on-mound athlete with consistent mid-90s arm strength, Yamamoto locates virtually all of his pitches at will and walked just 28 batters across 164 innings in 2023. His fastball (he averaged 95 mph but peaks in the 97–99 range) enjoys substantial in-zone whiff utility thanks to his velo, the rise/run shape and shallow angle of his heater, and his feel for locating it in the top third of the zone and above. After several consecutive seasons of decline, he showed an uptick in two-seamer usage in 2023, though his ground ball rate dropped four percentage points compared to prior years. His four-seamer pairs nicely with a nasty, old school, upper-70s curveball, which he uses to both get ahead of and finish hitters. A low-90s splitter is his best pitch and most-deployed secondary weapon. It has exceptional bat-missing drop and doesn’t need to be located precisely in order to play. A more pedestrian slider/cutter, which lives off of his consistent glove-side command, rounds out his repertoire.

Inextricably linked to Japanese pitching prospects are questions about how they’ll respond to a potential change in routine (a start once every five days instead of once a week) and how their breaking stuff will play upon transition to the lower-seamed MLB baseball. While these apply to Yamamoto, it’s plausible the Dodgers will parlay his combination of arm strength and feel for spin into a better hard slider, or variant thereof, so there is also some “good variance” around the way I’m projecting his breaking ball(s) here. The entire package is very reminiscent of peak Zack Greinke, as Yamamoto’s frame, delivery, stuff quality and command are all of that ilk. I cannot emphasize this enough: as good as his stuff is (and there have been pieces at other outlets that dive deeper into the quantifiable elements of his pitches using data from one WBC outing nine months ago; your mileage may vary as to how useful or instructive this is), his command and pitchability, the way he sequences and sets up pitches, elevate every single one of his offerings.

Consider Yamamoto’s performance in Game 6 of the NPB Series a month ago. A few days after the Hanshin Tigers knocked him around in Game 1, he threw a 138-pitch, 14-strikeout complete game to push the series to a decisive Game 7. In an environment where big league pitchers’ performance drops off after the opposing lineup has seen them three and four times, he was utterly dominant despite the Tigers seeing him for the fifth, sixth, and seventh times. This is a special individual, and he is young enough that he may still get a bit better as he enters his late-20s.

The Dodgers’ spending will likely be offset by the global marketing and television dollars from employing maybe the two best Japanese baseball players on the planet at the same time. If you’ve watched Angels games throughout the past half-decade, you’ve seen Japanese-language ads behind home plate or on the walls of the dugout. What Yamamoto is poised to earn throughout the next decade-plus is the going rate for a pitcher with his talent, but I can’t begin to fathom what kind of additional financial benefit the Dodgers might enjoy because of everything from jersey sales to broadcast and advertising dollars. We can bet it will be more significant than what the Angels enjoyed because of Ohtani, in part because Los Angeles has a dynamic duo to promote, and also because the Dodgers themselves are an iconic franchise.

Jay Jaffe and I wrote recently about how we think the Dodgers would be leaving themselves unnecessarily vulnerable if they didn’t address some of the uncertainty around their middle infield. But they’ve now added such high-end talent in other places that, in the wake of this signing, they feel close to invulnerable.





Eric Longenhagen is from Catasauqua, PA and currently lives in Tempe, AZ. He spent four years working for the Phillies Triple-A affiliate, two with Baseball Info Solutions and two contributing to prospect coverage at ESPN.com. Previous work can also be found at Sports On Earth, CrashburnAlley and Prospect Insider.

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Left of Centerfield
5 months ago

You know your team’s had a great offseason when their 3rd best acquisition is Tyler Glasnow…

sadtrombonemember
5 months ago

I know that there’s a lot of speculation left on what more they could do, and they really could use a shortstop and maybe another back-end starter. But I think they are potentially done.

FrodoBeck
5 months ago
Reply to  sadtrombone

Somebody to reliably eat 150 innings would be so valuable for them and offset a lot of risk. Glasnow is an obvious risk, and Buehler is a total wild card at this point. Whether that’s a trade for Cease or just assuming a combo of Stone/Grove/Sheehan/Yarbrough is enough to fill out the end of the rotation remains to be seen.

sadtrombonemember
5 months ago
Reply to  FrodoBeck

If they do a 6-man rotation, they definitely need another arm. If not, they might be able to get by with Sheehan as the 5th starter and Stone as the 6th starter, but I wouldn’t want to bet on it.

fuster
5 months ago
Reply to  sadtrombone

a 6th starter is something that they’re likely to have in 2025

mikejuntmember
5 months ago
Reply to  fuster

Yeah, I would guess that this year they just look for the depth because they will have some backend questions and Buehler returning from TJS with possibly some kind of workload limitations, and with the expectation that in a year they will be switching to the 6 man rotation you need with Ohtani anyway.

fuster
5 months ago
Reply to  sadtrombone

the value of a great rotation is attenuated by the lack of a great shortstop

fjtorres
5 months ago
Reply to  fuster

Uh, have you considered their offense?
They can any of a dozen good glove zero offense SS in the minors and not blink.

Dmjn53
5 months ago
Reply to  fuster

Huh?

Dan B
5 months ago
Reply to  sadtrombone

It feels like the Dodgers would have been a great home for Houser.

Not sure if they could have given up more than the immortal Coleman Crow though

sogoodlooking
5 months ago
Reply to  Dan B

That’s a foolish remark in the context of a foolish Mets move. Guys like Houser (and Taylor) are available every offseason for nothing but cash (cf Gibson, K.). Instead, the Mets decided to trade in Crow a starter with MOR upside (and even a little more, acc to Baseball America), of which they have none above Rookie ball, and in an era where MORs like Taijuan Walker and Jameson Taillon are getting 4/72 and 4/68.

It was hardly the worst move of the offseason, and it doesn’t matter that Crow probably has no more than a 15% chance of realizing his upside—it’s the sheer pointlessness of it that’s striking. Not what I expected of Stearns. That Mets fans are applauding the deal, almost wildly, reeks of desperation and a powerful misunderstanding of where the team is now.

The Ghost of Johnny Dickshotmember
5 months ago

I love Glasnow but let’s be real…he’s made 20+ starts ONE time. He’s pitched more than 100 innings TWICE.