Phillies' hot pursuit of top Japanese starter makes sense even after Nola deal

Reports indicate that the Phillies aren't finished shopping in the starting pitcher section of the free agent market, and that's a good thing.
Yoshinobu Yamamoto, top free agent target of the Philadelphia Phillies
Yoshinobu Yamamoto, top free agent target of the Philadelphia Phillies / Megan Briggs/GettyImages

The deal is done. Aaron Nola is back in red pinstripes on a seven-year, $172 million contract that will see him stay in Philadelphia through his age-37 season. With their guy locked up for the foreseeable future, many thought that would be it for the Philadelphia Phillies shopping for top-end starting pitchers this offseason.

However, recent reports are telling us a different story. Soon after the dust settled from the fracas around the seemingly sudden Nola re-signing, word got out that the Phillies are still interested in pursuing another front-of-the-rotation starter.

According to Alex Coffey of The Philadelphia Inquirer, sources have said that the team wants to sign another starter this offseason.

Their target? Top Japanese starting pitcher Yoshinobu Yamamoto, who we've written about multiple times this offseason.

Ever since there were hints at the beginning of the month that the 25-year-old phenom was a good fit for the Phillies, the conventional thinking has been that Yamamoto would be a replacement for Nola, not his teammate. Just recently, as late as the end of last week, it came to light that the team was heavily invested in pursuing Yamamoto.

Even after the Nola deal, Yamamoto remains a top target for president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski and general manager Sam Fuld. Don't let that fool you, though. Just because they're still serious about the Japanese pitcher doesn't mean they'll necessarily be shopping for other high-end starters if a deal doesn't get done.

Per Coffey: "If the Phillies don’t sign Yamamoto, it’s unlikely that they will add another starter of his caliber. This source says they plan to be 'pretty aggressive' in pursuing him, but if they don’t settle on the right price, they won’t push for a deal."

So it sounds like it's Yamamoto or bust for top-end pitching talent.

Adding Yamamoto makes sense for the Phillies

Despite having a strong top of the rotation in 2023, with Zack Wheeler doing Zack Wheeler things and Nola finishing strong after a rocky regular season, the Phillies struggled with depth on the mound for much of the year. And they still won 90 games.

They went with Matt Strahm at the beginning of the year and then got lucky when Cristopher Sánchez bailed them out for almost 100 innings. Michael Lorenzen was an unmitigated disaster after his hot post-trade deadline start. Ranger Suárez and Taijuan Walker are, well, Ranger Suárez and Taijuan Walker. They can be serviceable for what they are, middle-of-the-rotation starters at best.

If the Phillies are serious about winning now and want to seriously compete with the powerhouse Atlanta Braves for the NL East title, they'll need more certainty at the front of the rotation.

In Yamamoto, the Phillies can add a third head to the two-headed monster of Wheeler and Nola.

The right-hander has won three straight Eiji Sawamura Awards, Japan's Cy Young, and just won the pitching triple crown for the second consecutive year. He posted the lowest ERA with the most strikeouts and wins. He went 16-6 with a 1.21 ERA and a 0.88 WHIP while logging 169 strikeouts in 164 innings.

There are always concerns about how Japanese pitchers will adapt to the American game. The ball is different, and the schedule is more rigorous — not to mention the cultural changes. However, according to Jim Bowden of The Athletic, teams see Yamamoto as a No. 1 or No. 2 rotation piece.

Plus, whoever signs Yamamoto will have at least five years before he even hits 30. For the Phillies, he'll be worth the pursuit and the investment.

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