The Braves have already been linked to two top free agent starting pitchers in Aaron Nola and Sonny Gray by Jon Morosi of MLB Network. That aligns with what Ken Rosenthal also reported yesterday, suggesting the Braves will spend big in free agency for the right starting pitcher.
But what if the right starting pitcher isn’t Aaron Nola or Sonny Gray? Perhaps it’s 25-year-old Japanese superstar Yoshinobu Yamamoto. He’s set to join Major League Baseball next year, and some believe he will be the most sought after free agent starting pitcher after posting a 1.72 ERA and 4.56 SO/BB ratio across seven seasons in the NPB.
2023 Starting Pitching WAR: 10.0 (T-11th)
Atlanta’s starting pitching collapsed in the second half of 2023, running up a 5.10 ERA even as the team finished with 104 wins. Only Strider was reliable when October arrived.
According to Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic, Atlanta is now willing to pony up for “the right starting pitcher in free agency.” And to this end, Yamamoto is the best it can do.
He and Strider, who led the majors with 281 strikeouts this season, would be an electric 1-2 punch. And with Fried, Morton and Elder also in the fold, Atlanta would have the depth to give Yamamoto the occasional blow as he adjusts to MLB’s grueling schedule and travel.
Ah, but one question is whether the Japanese star is even remotely in the team’s price range. It’s never done so much as a $100 million deal in free agency, so it would be quite the leap for it to suddenly do a $200 million deal.
There’s also the market question. Atlanta is far from a small market, but it’s not, say, New York, Los Angeles or Chicago.
Rymer barely had the Braves cracking the list of top landing spots for Yamamoto, sneaking in at #10 of 10. However, I would argue they should be even higher if they are serious about spending money on an elite starting pitcher, which they seem to be, given their interest in Aaron Nola.
Like Nola, Yamamoto is a workhouse capable of going deep into games. He strikes out batters at a high clip but also limits his walks. What makes him perhaps even more appealing is his age. He’s only 25-years-old, so whoever signs him will be getting him in the prime of his career.
Of course, it’s always difficult to judge the priorities of free agents from Japan. Some are focused on staying closer to home on the West Coast, some like the bigger markets or want to play with other players from Japan, while others just want the most dollars in their bank account.
That’s a lot of unknowns to factor in. But if one of Yamamoto’s top priorities is winning and the Braves are willing to give him a healthy contract, one would think they are on a short list of teams with a chance of landing him.
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