First Shohei Ohtani, Now Yoshinobu Yamamoto: How Two Japanese Stars Brought the Free Agency Market to a Standstill

Published 12/20/2023, 12:29 PM EST

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In a matter of two weeks, the MLB world’s focus shifted from one Japanese star to the next. History is proof that Japanese stars have made a mark in the big leagues. But this year has been unique, unlike any other free agency. Thanks to the rare gem and two-way phenom Shohei Ohtani, and arguably the greatest ever player in Nippon Professional Baseball, Yoshinobu Yamamoto. December summarizes how the world stops when two generational players come under a single umbrella. 

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It was no secret that the 2023 off-season would be one of a kind. The alarm bell rang when news was out that Ohtani would hit free agency for the 2nd time after 2017. While many teams were hungry for him, only a few could afford the unicorn. Yamamoto on the other hand is set to make his debut with a bang. As one of the best pitchers to ever exist, his debut season is expected to be a grand $300 million worth welcome! How did these international stars make such an impact? 

What Made Shohei Ohtani’s Free Agency Such a Big Deal? 

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Chronologically, it started when the 29-year-old, Oshu-born prematurely exited the season due to his elbow injury. Talks of it being the last time with his (then) team, the Los Angeles Angels began. Blanketed by intense secrecy his free agency was soon to follow. While there were fewer chances for Ohtani to sign back with the Angels, he had the Los Angeles Dodgers, Toronto Blue Jays, and San Francisco Giants competitively chasing him. 

It’s simple, teams want to win and so does Ohtani. A more nuanced perspective here would be the pitcher-hitter’s two-way expertise that comes inherent to him. Though he will not be showcasing his pitching prowess in 2024, Shotime will hopefully be back on the mound by 2025. 

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The gargantuan status of the star’s prowess also comes with a lot of marketing weightage. Any team that he would’ve been a part of would experience a boost in revenue in terms of merchandise and apparel sales, ticketing sales, international fan base, and overall rise in the profitability of the franchise.

A glimpse of this prediction came true when his new Dodgers’ #17 jersey was the fastest-selling item within the first 48 hours of any player ever in US sports. This record-breaking sale is just the tip of the iceberg. With the Dodgers closing the deal with Ohtani for a $700 million deal for 10 years with around a $680 million deferral, the free agency chapter for Shotime came to a close. But then began the Yoshinobu Yamamoto saga.

Nothing Can Satiate the Suitors’ Hunger for Yoshinobu Yamamoto

On November 20th, the Orix Buffaloes of Nippon Professional Baseball posted Yoshinobu Yamamoto. The posting period started at 7 am Central on November 21 and concludes at 4 pm Central on January 4, 2024. While some teams remain the same as Ohtani’s pursuers, namely the Giants and the Dodgers, there have been a couple of other names. The New York Yankees and New York Mets are two such teams that are equally competitive about having the #18 pitcher onboard. 

‘Yoshi’ is a 25-year-old with immense youth energy and teams that are hungry for this Japanese star are also the ones who need powerful pitching. With 3 consecutive MVP titles and 3 back-to-back Sawamura Awards, Japan’s version of the prestigious Cy Young, he stands as the most sought-after free agent.

The ace has sparked a competitive bidding frenzy among some of the wealthiest teams in Major League Baseball. The expectation is that this bidding war will come to a close before the start of the new year, as early as this week. That said, seeing both these Japanese superpowers under the same umbrella of the 2024 season will be bliss. 

The Ohtani-Yamamoto Camaraderie 

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On one hand, Ohtani is the man with the biggest contract ever in MLB drawing comparisons to some of the biggest players across sports. On the other Yamamoto is on his way to becoming the greatest and most valued rookie. Proof of their camaraderie is their game at the World Baseball Classic, where the Land of the Rising Sun emerged victorious. 

The ultimate battle against Mike Trout and Team USA may have stolen the spotlight, but the Yamamoto-Ohtani teamwork was a special highlight of the nail-biting finale.

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Now, the world is preparing for a rare season where two Japanese superpowers will be seen on the diamond. While one is an established legend in the making, the other is a young prodigy and an achiever who has a bright future. Owing to the rarity of such talent and their high financial value, the two stars have become the center of the entire free agency market. And as a ripple effect, they have brought the proceedings to a standstill until they make a call.  

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Written by:

Kanishka Prakash

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"Our identity is forged through consistent actions. True excellence is not a singular act; rather, it is ingrained in our daily habits." Since I was a teen, I learned that the best way I could express myself was by writing.
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Edited by:

Arunima Bhanot

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