Phillies getting serious about signing a Japanese phenom not named Ohtani

The Philadelphia Phillies have emerged in rumors as a top potential suitor for Yoshinobu Yamamoto.

Chiba Lotte Marines v Orix Buffaloes - Pacific League Climax Series Final Game 1
Chiba Lotte Marines v Orix Buffaloes - Pacific League Climax Series Final Game 1 / Sports Nippon/GettyImages

International free agent Yoshinobu Yamamoto of the Orix Buffaloes will be one of the major additions for any club this offseason. The typical franchises that are often in the running for international talent such as the New York Yankees, New York Mets, Boston Red Sox, San Francisco Giants, and Los Angeles Dodgers have all been rumored to be potential suitors for the talented 25-year-old.

However, the Philadelphia Phillies are a club that has emerged in speculation as a landing spot for the right-handed thrower. Although Philadelphia is currently one of the top teams in the league, they often are not a top destination for international free agents looking to sign with a Major League Baseball franchise.

Let's take a look at why the addition of Yamamoto is intriguing for the Phillies.

Why are the Phillies interested in signing Yamamoto? Why wouldn't they be?

Yamamoto is the latest pitcher of the Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB) League aiming to make the transition to the majors. Yu Darvish, Kodai Senga, Masahiro Tanaka, and Shohei Ohtani are some of the talented players who are currently playing or have spent time with teams after signing as free agents from the NPB.

Yamamoto has won a minimum of 15 games from the 2021 to 2023 seasons for the Buffaloes. He has finished with an earned run average of below two in each of the last three years and had over 200 strikeouts in 2021 and 2022. He had a career-low 28 walks in 2023 along with giving up two home runs, another career-low.

Philadelphia may lose Aaron Nola in free agency and will be seeking a pitcher to replace him if he signs with another team. Yamamoto has the potential to be a top-two thrower in the club's starting pitching rotation. With Zack Wheeler entering his final season under his current contract with the Phillies in 2024, the 25-year-old right-hander could be a top pitcher for the organization for the next several seasons.

Jim Salisbury, a Phillies insider who previously worked for Comcast Sportsnet Philadelphia (now NBCSports Philadelphia) and The Philadelphia Inquirer, commented on the Hugh Douglas and Joe Giglio midday show on Sportsradio 94 WIP of the team's interest in signing the international superstar:

"The Phillies are a big market team with a huge will to win and a will to spend money. I know they don't have a history with Japanese players, but why not start one? [Yamamoto] and Nola would be the two guys I'd be all over in free agency and I do believe the Phillies will be all over both of those guys."

Phillies considered one of the top suitors for Yamamoto

Alex Coffey of The Philadelphia Inquirer recently reported that the Phillies have taken a more-than-serious interest in the right-hander: "... the Phillies are strongly considering right-hander Yoshinobu Yamamoto as a top-of-the-rotation starter to sign in free agency. Like many teams, the Phillies have sent scouts to see Yamamoto, but sources say their interest in him is far from cursory."

According to Coffey, one scout thinks that "'... the Phillies should be considered one of the top five or six suitors for his services.'"

Yamamoto was a key contributor to Japan winning the 2023 World Baseball Classic in March. He finished second among pitchers with 12 strikeouts during the tournament. For his career, he has compiled a record of 70-29, 922 strikeouts, and a 1.82 earned run average in the NPB. His fastball averages 95 miles per hour and he also throws a splitter, curveball, and cutter.

The talented thrower will make a good addition to any club's rotation, especially one with at least one established ace returning for 2024. Philadelphia is one franchise that will have that with Wheeler under contract. Yamamoto would be joining a team in the Phillies that remains in contention for a World Series championship next season.

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