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    Rosenthal: Thoughts on Yoshinobu Yamamoto’s Dodgers deal and where the market goes now

    Thoughts on Japanese right-hander Yoshinobu Yamamoto’s 12-year, $325 million free-agent contract with the Dodgers, which according to a league source includes a $50 million signing bonus and no deferred money:

    First, the numbers. They’re staggering.

    Yamamoto, 25, received the largest guarantee for a pitcher, $1 million more than Gerrit Cole, before ever throwing a pitch in the majors. He was in the right place at the right time, thanks to his relative youth and the competition he generated among the game’s biggest spenders. And boy, did he capitalize.

    The Dodgers’ total payout for Yamamoto, including a posting fee of $50.625 million to his former club, the Orix Buffaloes, will exceed $375 million. Their combined investment this offseason in Yamamoto, Shohei Ohtani and Tyler Glasnow, without discounting for Ohtani’s deferrals: more than $1.2 billion.

    By extending the deal to 12 years, through Yamamoto’s age 36 season, the Dodgers lowered their luxury tax hit. Yamamoto’s average annual value of $27.08 million will be the 34th highest in major-league history, just ahead of new Dodgers teammate Freddie Freeman, who is at $27 million.

    The Dodgers’ luxury tax payroll, according to Fangraphs, stands at about $282 million, or about $15 million below the highest threshold. The team still could trade for another starting pitcher to go with Yamamoto, Glasnow, Walker Buehler and Bobby Miller. They also might attempt to upgrade at shortstop.

    Shohei Ohtani and Yoshinobu Yamamoto at the World Baseball Classic earlier this year. (Rob Tringali /WBCI / MLB Photos via Getty Images)

    So much for the idea that Ohtani would not want to play with his Japanese countryman Yamamoto, or vice versa.

    Ohtani’s massive deferrals helped make this deal happen. He also played a role in recruiting Yamamoto, participating with several other Dodgers stars in the team’s meeting with the pitcher.

    Yamamoto is described as eager for the limelight, somewhat the opposite of Ohtani in personality. But he evidently was not concerned about being overshadowed by the game’s biggest star.

    The pressure on Dave Roberts, about to enter his ninth season as Dodgers manager, is about to reach a new level. And it wasn’t exactly fading before all this.

    Roberts, 51, has managed the Dodgers to five 100-win seasons, two 90-win seasons and a World Series title in the shortened 2020 campaign. He is coming off perhaps his best regular-season performance, but the Dodgers were swept by the Arizona Diamondbacks in the Division Series. They still have not won a World Series in a full season since 1988.

    Their lineup will include three likely Hall of Famers, Ohtani, Freeman and Mookie Betts. Their rotation will include the oft-injured Glasnow, Buehler coming off Tommy John surgery and Yamamoto adjusting to a new league, country and culture. And the expectations will be enormous.

    Roberts is under contract for two more seasons.

    Perhaps the best hope for the Yankees, Mets and Yamamoto’s other suitors was that Andrew Friedman rarely had won at the top of the market since taking over as Dodgers president of baseball operations in October 2014. Ohtani’s $700 million deal, loaded with deferrals, driven by ownership’s business interests, almost shouldn’t count.

    The Yamamoto deal more than doubled Friedman’s biggest previous score in free agency before this offseason, Freeman for six years, $162 million. Betts signed a heavily deferred, 12-year, $365 million extension in the middle of the pandemic. Friedman lost to the Yankees on Cole. He offered Bryce Harper only a short-term deal. He wasn’t all that serious on Corey Seager.

    Yamamoto, in some respects, is his biggest bet.

    Get ready for Scott Boras season. Boras represents the top four remaining free agents in The Athletic’s Top 40 Big Board — center fielder Cody Bellinger, left-handers Blake Snell and Jordan Montgomery and third baseman Matt Chapman. He also represents the two pitchers most in demand on the trade market — White Sox right-hander Dylan Cease and Brewers righty Corbin Burnes.

    Boras’ free agents are not without warts, but in a market thin on talent, he is well-positioned to exploit some of the Ohtani and/or Yamamoto losers, most notably the Giants and Red Sox. The Giants already have signed one of his clients, outfielder Jung Hoo Lee, to a six-year, $113 million deal that many in the industry considered an overpay.

    Boras’ remaining free agents also include designated hitter J.D. Martinez, righty Frankie Montas and lefties Hyun-Jin Ryu, Sean Manaea and James Paxton.

    How do you define “full throttle”? That’s the term Red Sox chairman Tom Werner used to describe the team’s approach to the offseason upon naming Craig Breslow as chief baseball officer. But to this point, outfielder Tyler O’Neill has been the Sox’s most notable addition.

    Snell or Montgomery represents an obvious pivot for a team in need of a top-of-the-rotation starter. But even then, the Sox might struggle to contend in an AL East that includes the 101-win Orioles, always competitive Rays, rotation-rich Blue Jays and Juan Soto’s Yankees.

    Could Jordan Montgomery end up back in pinstripes this offseason? (Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

    For the Yankees, landing Yamamoto on top of Soto would have been a flex reminiscent of George Steinbrenner. It didn’t happen. The Yankees bid $300 million for Yamamoto, a league source told The Athletic’s Brendan Kuty. Perhaps they didn’t want to offer Yamamoto more than the $324 million they gave Cole. But they could have rectified that situation, awkward as it might have been, fairly easily.

    Cole can opt out after the 2024 season, and if he invokes that clause, the Yankees can void that escape by adding a 10th year at $36 million. That would take his total guarantee with the team to $360 million, eclipsing Yamamoto. If the Yankees want, they could even try to extend Cole beyond that.

    As it stands, they need at least one more starter after failing to land Yamamoto, and at least internally have discussed a reunion with Montgomery. They also could seek to load up the bullpen. As competitive as their division is, as disappointing as they were last season, they cannot stop.

    And the Mets, you ask? Is owner Steve Cohen, after failing to land Yamamoto, truly going to settle for a series of minor additions as the team points toward 2025 and beyond?

    The Mets, as The Athletic’s Will Sammon wrote, are signaling that is their plan. It might be a wise plan, considering the questions surrounding the remaining free agents and the difficulty of trading for top talent without giving up premium youngsters. But Yamamoto represented a perfect fit, and the Dodgers matched Cohen’s $325 million offer. Perhaps the Mets’ only chance was to bid so high no team could have approached them.

    A percentage of Mets fans will be patient, just as a percentage of every team’s fans is now conditioned to “trust the process.” The next test for Cohen and new president of baseball operations David Stearns will be first baseman Pete Alonso, who is eligible for free agency after the 2024 season. If anything, Alonso’s leverage with the team might only be growing stronger.

    I’ll conclude by repeating the first paragraph of my column after the Dodgers signed Ohtani: “The usual howls are coming. The large-market teams end up with all the best players. A $700 million contract is outrageous. Baseball needs a salary cap.”

    The howls will grow even louder now that Yamamoto has chosen the same team as Ohtani and received the largest pitching contract in baseball history. I’ll stand by everything I wrote in my Ohtani column, in which I argued that baseball is not broken. But as the payroll disparity between the haves and have-nots continues to widen, the next round of labor negotiations could turn into another epic battle.

    (Top photo of Yamamoto: Koji Watanabe/Getty Images)



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