The Giants met with star NPB right-hander Yoshinobu Yamamoto on Sunday, reports Buster Olney of ESPN. They’re at least the third big-market club to meet with Yamamoto in just over a week’s time; the Yankees are reportedly meeting with the 25-year-old today, and Mets owner Steve Cohen flew to Japan recently to meet with the reigning three-time NPB MVP and Sawamura Award winner (the latter of which is NPB’s Cy Young equivalent).
Interest in Yamamoto on the Giants’ behalf has been expected all winter. It’s not clear exactly which members of the team brass met with Yamamoto, though it’s fair to presume that president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi and ownership representatives were present. Half the league (if not more) showed some level of interest when the soon-to-be former Orix Buffaloes ace was posted for MLB clubs. The Giants are one of seven clubs characterized by Will Sammon of The Athletic as a “serious” suitor for Yamamoto, joining the Dodgers, Yankees, Mets and Blue Jays in that regard (plus another two unnamed teams).
The Dodgers, of course, have since signed Shohei Ohtani to a precedent-shattering $700MM contract. Whether they’d make another commitment that most expect to comfortably exceed $200MM remains to be seen. The Giants and Blue Jays, in particular, are two teams that were deeply involved in the bidding for Ohtani and can now pivot to Yamamoto. The two New York clubs have thus far been the most oft-linked clubs to Yamamoto, though that’s certainly not a clear signal that he’ll end up pitching for either.
Signing Yamamoto would require a significant shift in ideology for a Giants front office that in five years under Farhan Zaidi has not signed a free agent pitcher to a contract of more than three years in length. San Francisco did ink current ace Logan Webb to a five-year contract, but that bought out all of Webb’s would-be arbitration seasons as well. Signing Yamamoto would be another proposition entirely: commanding as many as seven, eight, nine or perhaps even ten years to the ballyhooed righty at market-rate prices.
The Giants have been far more wary of paying pitchers who are already into their 30s — hence the ill-fated decision to let Kevin Gausman sign with the Blue Jays on what now looks like a bargain five-year contract. Yamamoto’s youth makes him an atypical case that San Francisco decision-makers could consider an exception, though they’ll be far from alone in that line of thinking.
Payroll-wise, the Giants are positioned as well — if not better — than any of Yamamoto’s known top suitors. Webb, Mitch Haniger and Taylor Rogers are the only players guaranteed any money beyond the 2024 season, and the latter two are both off the books after the 2025 campaign. (Haniger technically could be sooner; he can opt out of the final year and $15.5MM on his contract next offseason, though he’d need a bounceback campaign to consider doing so.)
The Giants are known to be seeking star-caliber players after missing out on previous targets like Bryce Harper, Aaron Judge, Carlos Correa and now Ohtani. Zaidi was recently extended through the 2026 season, giving him some additional job security, but he’s also surely aware that in five seasons under his watch, the Giants have missed the postseason and finished .500 or worse on four occasions. The team’s farm system also hasn’t produced any star players during this stretch, although catcher Patrick Bailey and lefty Kyle Harrison certainly showed promise in 2023’s rookie efforts.
San Francisco’s rotation is also in dire need of both innings and upside. The Giants regularly leaned on openers and bullpen games in the season’s final months. Webb and veteran Alex Cobb are the only set-in-stone rotation members, but Cobb is also coming off hip surgery. The aforementioned Harrison will surely get a look but isn’t yet entrenched on the staff after serving up an average of 2.08 homers per nine frames in his rookie campaign. Swingman Ross Stripling could start or work out of the bullpen. Anthony DeSclafani — Zaidi’s largest free-agent pitching deal, at three years and $36MM — is still under contract for the 2024 season but pitched just 99 2/3 innings in 2023 due to injury. Twenty-five-year-old righty Keaton Winn posted a 6.04 ERA in his first five MLB starts this past season.
Yamamoto would be a sensible target for the Giants, although in a free-agent market that’s fairly deep in arms, San Francisco has alternative options if the team feels the bidding gets out of hand. That’s less true in a thin market for position players, where the Giants also figure to be active. Zaidi has spoken about adding to his outfield in particular, with Cody Bellinger standing as an oft-speculated fit for the Giants.
Whoever ultimately signs Yamamoto will owe his former club a posting/release fee equivalent to the sum of 20% of the contract’s first $25MM, 17.5% of the next $25MM and 15% of any dollars thereafter. A $225MM investment in Yamamoto, for instance, would cost the signing club an additional $35.625MM. Future money paid out via incentives or contractual options is also subject to that 15% rate. Yamamoto has won three straight Sawamura Awards in Japan and just posted a career-best 1.21 ERA in 2023. He’s logged a sub-2.00 ERA in four of his past five seasons while punching out better than 27% of his opponents against a tidy 5.7% walk rate.