Yankees, Dodgers, Mets among MLB teams scouting Roki Sasaki’s 2024 season debut in Japan


The 2024 MLB regular season is just getting underway but it is never too early to look ahead to next offseason. Eight teams scouted right-hander Roki Sasaki’s season debut for the Chiba Lotte Marines in Japan over the weekend, according to Yahoo! Japan. The Los Angeles Dodgers, New York Mets, and New York Yankees were among them, per the Los Angeles Times and SNY.
With Yoshinobu Yamamoto now a Dodger, Sasaki is the best pitcher in the world outside Major League Baseball, and the 22-year-old phenom is said to be ahead of Yamamoto developmentally when he was the same age. In his season debut over the weekend, Sasaki struck out seven and allowed one run on six hits and a walk in five innings. Here are those seven strikeouts:
Sasaki has made it clear he wants to be posted for MLB teams this coming offseason. The Marines have not yet committed to posting him, however, and coming over this offseason would be the worse financial move for Sasaki and Marines. Because he will be only 23 this offseason, Sasaki would be subject to MLB’s international bonus pools, thus severely limiting his signing bonus.
The largest international bonus pools each year are approximately $7 million. Teams can trade for an additional 60%, so the maximum signing bonus for Sasaki is in the $11 million range. That pales in comparison to Yamamoto’s 12-year, $325 million contract. Sasaki could wait two years until he’s 25, then no longer be subject to the bonus pools and able to sign a contract of any size.
It’s not just about the signing bonus either. If Sasaki waits until he turns 25 to come over, he’ll get a massive free-agent contract right away, like Yamamoto. But, if he comes over this offseason, Sasaki will have to go through the usual six years of team control — three pre-arbitration years and three arbitration years — before reaching free agency. He wouldn’t hit the open market until age 29.
There is precedent for a star Japanese player coming over while subject to the bonus pools: Shohei Ohtani. He joined the Los Angeles Angels at age 23 in 2018, and received only a $2.315 million signing bonus. It certainly worked out for Ohtani in the end — he signed a 10-year, $700 million contract this offseason — but the big free-agent payoff was delayed.
For the Marines, posting Sasaki this offseason would reduce the posting fee. The posting fee would be 15% of Sasaki’s signing bonus this offseason. If Sasaki waits until age 25 to be posted, the posting fee will be a much larger percentage of his contract. The Orix Buffaloes received a $50.625 million posting fee for Yamamoto, for example.
Coming over this offseason would level the playing field, financially. At that point it would be clear Sasaki’s priority is not maximizing dollars, and teams couldn’t simply add money to their offers until he says yes. They’ll have to sell him on the organization and the fit. Not surprisingly, the Dodgers are believed to be the early frontrunner to land Sasaki.
“Every team in baseball wants this guy but there’s no way he’s going anywhere else but the Dodgers,” an unnamed GM told USA Today recently. “We all know it.”
Sasaki was teammates with Ohtani and Yamamoto in last year’s World Baseball Classic, when Japan ran the table and won the title. That said, not every Japanese player winds up in Los Angeles. The Chicago Cubs signed lefty Shota Imanaga this offseason, and last offseason Kodai Senga (Mets) and Masataka Yoshida (Boston Red Sox) signed with East Coast teams.
In parts of four seasons in Japan, Sasaki owns a 2.00 ERA with 383 strikeouts in 288 2/3 innings. He threw a 19-strikeout perfect game two years ago and retired 52 consecutive batters at one point. Sasaki features a fastball that regularly touches 100 mph and a trapdoor splitter.


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