Yoshinobu Yamamoto’s free-agent sweepstakes captivated the entire league in recent weeks, and now it looks like another elite Japanese pitcher could do the same next winter. According to a Sponichi Annex report shared by Yahoo! Japan, 22-year-old righty Roki Sasaki — one of the most talented pitchers on the planet, regardless of league — is expected to continue pushing his current team, the Chiba Lotte Marines of Nippon Professional Baseball, to post him next offseason in order to sign with an MLB club. (For those unaware, the posting system functions as a sort of transfer portal connecting NPB and MLB; players under contract with NPB teams can’t sign elsewhere without first being posted.)
Sasaki has had Major League scouts drooling for years now, rising to global fame after striking out 19 batters in a perfect game as a 20-year-old back in 2022. The righty just posted a 1.78 ERA and 13.4 K/9 with Chiba Lotte this past season, and with a rising high-90s fastball and devastating splitter/forkball, there’s no doubt that he’ll be among the most coveted free agents whenever he does hit the market.
But both the Marines and Sasaki have significant financial incentive for him to remain overseas for several more years. Under MLB’s current rules, players who are under a certain age and service-time threshold are classified as international amateur free agents and, thus, subject to Minor League economics. If Sasaki were posted tomorrow, he would be classified not as a normal free agent but as an amateur free agent — meaning that any MLB team hoping to sign him would only be able to do so with its international bonus pool money (i.e., the money it uses to sign Minor Leaguers). No team has more than $8 million in pool money, which would dramatically reduce Sasaki’s first contract — and, in turn, the Marines’ posting fee, costing them millions upon millions of dollars compared to what they would fetch if Sasaki remained in Japan until the winter of 2026.
Despite all that, Sasaki reportedly wants to come over as soon as he can anyway, even if it means that he follows in Shohei Ohtani’s footsteps by signing for significantly less money than a player of his talent level merits. But Sasaki can’t make the decision unilaterally; he also needs the Mariners to sign off, and it’s hard to see them doing so with so much money at stake. Sasaki is Chiba Lotte’s best player, and letting him go for so little would be a huge setback.
For now, it appears that the two sides are playing a game of chicken, and it remains to be seen who will emerge the winner. When Sasaki does come to the States — be it in 2024 or 2026 — the Los Angeles Dodgers are expected to be one of Sasaki’s top suitors, especially given that they just signed two of his fellow Team Japan members in Ohtani and Yamamoto. To the chagrin of other teams, Dodgers executive Andrew Friedman was spotted at Team Japan workouts prior to last spring’s World Baseball Classic, providing him with the opportunity to get an up-close and personal read on Ohtani, Yamamoto, and Sasaki.