With Yoshinobu Yamamoto officially a Dodger, the title of best player in Japan now shifts to a different young righty: 22-year-old phenom Roki Sasaki, who’s already taken the world by storm in three seasons in Nippon Professional Baseball. Sasaki was utterly dominant in 2023, with a 1.78 ERA and 135 strikeouts across 91 innings with the Chiba Lotte Marines plus a 3.52 ERA over two starts for Team Japan in the World Baseball Classic. And with a riding, upper-90s fastball and an absolutely wipeout splitter, every MLB team is wondering when he might decide to jump to the States.
Sasaki seems keen on making that jump as soon as possible, going so far as to lobby the Marines to post him (i.e., make him available to Major League clubs) this winter. But both the Marines and Sasaki have a significant financial incentive to hold off on doing so for a couple more years — at which point Sasaki will have accrued enough service time to be considered a normal free agent, eligible to be offered as much money as the market will bear, rather than an amateur free agent, eligible for only international bonus money.
Right now it appears that player and club are in a bit of a game of chicken, with Sasaki wanting to get started on his MLB career and the Marines wanting to be richly compensated for giving up their best player. For the time being, Sasaki has a one-year deal with the Chiba Lotte Marines, the club announced on Friday.
This doesn’t really change much about Sasaki’s situation; if recent reports are accurate, he’ll still look to try again at the end of next season, and the Marines still won’t have much reason to oblige him. But it does answer the near-term question of where Sasaki will be pitching in 2024.