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Yoshinobu Yamamoto to be posted on Monday: What to know about Japanese star

After several years of dominance in Japan, the 25-year-old is set to become one of the top free agents in a thin market for starting pitching.

Yoshinobu Yamamoto of Team Japan pitches in the first inning against Team Republic of Korea during the semifinals of men’s baseball on day twelve of the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at Yokohama Baseball Stadium on August 04, 2021 in Yokohama, Japan. Photo by Koji Watanabe/Getty Images

With qualifying offers extended (and rejected), contract options exercised and/or declined and 40-man rosters whittled down, it’s almost time for MLB’s free agency to begin in earnest — and one of the biggest fishes available is on the verge of jumping into the pool. Buster Olney reported on Friday afternoon that star Japanese right-hander Yoshinobu Yamamoto will be posted by his NPB team, the Orix Buffaloes, on Monday, Nov. 20, officially kicking off what should be one of the biggest bidding wars of the winter.

For those unfamiliar with how this system works, all players looking to make the jump from Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball to the Majors must be “posted” — basically, made available to MLB teams — before contract negotiations can begin. Whichever big-league club is lucky enough to land Yamamoto will have to pay a sizable posting fee to the Buffaloes in addition to whatever contract they agree to with the player, which in this case could crack the $200 million mark.

If you’re wondering whether the righty is worth jumping through all those hoops, the answer is a resounding yes. Here’s everything you need to know about arguably the most sought-after free agent this side of Shohei Ohtani.

Yoshinobu Yamamoto scouting report

Yamamoto has been utterly dominant during his professional career. He’s a five-time All-Star and three-time ERA champion in NPB, and this past season he won the Pacific League’s equivalents of both the MVP and Cy Young Awards. The eye test backs up those numbers: With a fastball that sits in the mid-90s, a tight curveball and the sort of wipeout splitter we’ve come to expect from Ohtani, Kodai Senga, Kenta Maeda, Masahiro Tanaka and other Japanese aces, Yamamoto more than looks the part of a Major League-caliber ace. He proved as much on the world stage at this year’s World Baseball Classic, striking out 12 and allowing a .160 average against over 7.1 innings of two-run ball while helping Team Japan take home the title.

Oh, and did we mention he just turned 25 in August? Considering the quality of his stuff and his pedigree, there’s a good argument to be made that Yamamoto is the best pitcher in the world who’s yet to appear in the Majors. And given the fact that he’s both substantially younger than other available starters like Aaron Nola and Blake Snell — and won’t cost his new team a draft pick like Nola, Snell and everyone else who turne down a qualifying offer will — there’s also a good argument to be made that Yamamoto is the most valuable free agent on the market this winter not named Ohtani.

What might an eventual deal look like? Just about all the heavy hitters, from the Yankees to the Mets to the Red Sox to the Dodgers, figure to be in contention for his services, which will certainly drive the price up. And with demand for pitching far outstripping the currently available supply, there’s every reason to think that Yamamoto will blow past the $155 million deal Masahiro Tanaka signed back in 2014 — still the record for a Japanese free agent.

There’s of course risk in signing a pitcher who’s yet to have success in the Majors. But there’s risk in signing Nola, Snell or any of the winter’s other top arms, too, and Yamamoto offers unmatched upside thanks to his age; there’s a chance that we haven’t even seen his best baseball yet, while teams will have to worry about every other free agent declining as the push deeper into their 30s. A $200 million deal is very much on the table here, and we’re betting that whichever team ponies up that kind of cash won’t regret it.