The Red Sox have reportedly put an offer on the table for Japanese pitching star Yoshinobu Yamamoto. The move would signal a major shake-up in the Red Sox’s approach to free agency this offseason.
— Jim Bowden⚾️🏈 (@JimBowdenGM) December 16, 2023
Yamamoto Has Offer on Table from Red Sox
The lack of significant roster moves by the Red Sox this offseason has been disappointing and confusing at best. Chaim Bloom was fired as the Chief Baseball Officer, last season, largely because he looked for bargains that showed potential, statistically and historically speaking, to be productive players. The strategy did not work, thus Bloom was fired. Enter Craig Breslow, Boston’s new Chief Baseball Officer, and to this point, he has been following the same ineffective recipe for disaster as his predecessor. However, if the Red Sox land Yamamoto, it would signal the first significant signing under Breslow’s tenure and solidify a desperately needed number one or two starter in the pitching rotation.
The History of Japanese Pitchers in Major League Baseball and the Red Sox
The first pitcher of Japanese descent to play in Major League Baseball was Masanori Murakami. He pitched for the San Francisco Giants. While he put up good numbers as a reliever, he ultimately returned to Japan. Major League Baseball would not see another hyped-up pitching prospect emerge until three decades later.
Hideo Nomo signed with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1995. Eventually, Nomo would find himself as a member of the Boston Red Sox in 2001. During that 2001 season, he led the league in strikeouts (220). Nomo was known for his unique wind-up and his deceiving delivery. Nomo would pitch only one season in Boston, where he also threw a no-hitter. In his 13-year MLB career, Nomo was 123-109 with a 4.24 ERA.
The case of Hideki Irabu’s journey to Major League Baseball is also a hyped-up story, but not because of his on-field performance, like Nomo’s. The San Diego Padres purchased Irabu’s contract from the Chibe Lotte Marines. A controversy ensued when other MLB teams inquired as to why they did not have the same opportunity to sign Irabu that the Padres did. Additionally, Irabu refused to play for any MLB team other than the New York Yankees, who eventually worked out a trade with San Diego and signed Irabu to a four-year, $12.8 million contract. Aside from being part of two World Series championship teams, Irabu’s performance in MLB can be looked at as disappointing. In six seasons he was 34-35 with a 5.15 ERA. Tragically, Irabu took his own life in 2011.
The Star Signing of 2007
The Red Sox signed the highly coveted Daisuke Matsuzaka to a six-year, $52 million contract, after outbidding other MLB teams for his services. Matsuzaka and his mystical “gyro ball” were headed to Boston along with absurdly high expectations. That same year, the Red Sox also signed another Japanese pitcher named Hideki Okajima. While Matsuzaka was a starter, Okajima was a reliever. By the end of the 2007 season, Matsuzaka was 15-12 with a surprisingly high 4.40 ERA. Okajima was 3-2 with an also surprising (in a good way) 2.22 ERA. Okajima was also named to the 2007 All-Star Game; Matsuzaka was not.
When all was said and done, Matsuzaka had one good season (2008; 18-3, 2.90 ERA) out of eight, in Major League Baseball. Half of Okajima’s major league career saw him with an ERA under 3.00. The hyped-up pitcher arguably did not turn out to be the star pitcher in that 2007 World Series winning campaign for the Red Sox.
A Star is Born Again
In 2009, the Red Sox signed pitcher Junichi Tazawa to a three-year, $3 million contract. The team would not see a great return on investment until their dismal 2012 season. This was largely due to Tazawa having to undergo Tommy John surgery. Eventually, in 2012 as a relief pitcher, Tazawa would post a 1-1 record with a 1.43 ERA for Boston. In 2013, the Red Sox signed free agent pitcher Koji Uehara to a one-year contract. The result was Uehara winning ALCS MVP en route to helping the Red Sox win the 2013 World Series. Tazawa served as the set-up man for Uehara in that memorable 2013 season. Uehara would also be named an All-Star the following season.
The Red Sox have reportedly put a $300 million+ offer on the table for Japanese star pitcher Yoshinobu Yamamoto. It is a sign that Craig Breslow and the Red Sox front office for the first time this offseason are deviating from the strategy that sealed Chaim Bloom’s fate in Boston. However, the history of hyped-up Japanese pitching stars is a cautionary one, especially in Boston. While there was a lot of hype surrounding Matsuzaka and Tazawa, the pitchers who performed arguably better were Okajima and Uehara.
If history is to repeat itself, as the old saying goes, the Red Sox may want to look for a lower-profile Japanese pitching prospect to sign if they also want to sign Yamamoto. Either way, Sox fans are happy to see some signs of life as it applies to free agency from Red Sox brass. If he does sign with the Sox, the challenge for Yamamoto will be to live up to the hype that many of his predecessors could not live up to.