Yankees Rumors: NYY scouting Japanese ace (while we all wait for Roki Sasaki)
By Adam Weinrib
The New York Yankees will have some pitching shoes to fill in the years to come, even after securing Gerrit Cole (pending opt out) and Carlos Rodón long-term.
2023 is Luis Severino's contract year, and the right-hander is looking to shake off his spring struggles to earn a monster payday (that may or may not remove him from the Yankees' plans). Ditto Frankie Montas, who won't get the same opportunity to prove himself this season, but can also walk at the end of the campaign. Unless Domingo Germán and Clarke Schmidt can take hold of their roles this season, there will be several opportunities up for grabs at the end of the year, including depth pieces.
While the highest-possible upside play of Japanese ace Roki Sasaki is all any fan worth their salt can talk about after the right-hander pumped 102 in the zone repeatedly against Team Mexico in the World Baseball Classic semifinals, it'll take a while for the 21-year-old right-hander to reach US soil. Sasaki has called it his "dream" to pitch in America, so he'll be in MLB when ready (and healthy), but if he waits until 2027 (at the age of 25), he can escape the restrictions of the posting system and earn a heftier contract. That feels like a reasonable timeline.
In the meantime, the Yankees have a few other names to watch on the World Baseball Classic's dominant Japanese squad. Famously, slugger Munetaka Murakami -- who walked off Monday night's semifinal win -- is due to join MLB right around the time Anthony Rizzo's current contract expires. Additionally, the Yankees' scouts on hand for Monday's game could've been keeping an eye on starting pitcher Yamamoto Yoshinobu, who will likely be posted after the 2023 season.
Yankees scouting World Baseball Classic icon Roki Sasaki?
While the Yankees stayed out of fellow Japanese import Kodai Senga's market last offseason (presumably so they could pursue Carlos Rodón), Yoshinobu might make sense, with the rotation all the more unsettled after this upcoming season.
The 5-10, 169-pound right-hander will turn 25 midway through this upcoming season, and is coming off a 15-5 season with a 1.68 ERA in NPB.
Sasaki, of course, is the otherworldly alternative, and plenty of Yankees fans now share his "dream" of seeing him overseas (as long as he chooses the correct uniform). With a fastball that consistently hits 100+ and a splitter to die for (and dive over), it's somehow less shocking to learn he nearly threw back-to-back perfect games last summer before he was yanked from the second due to concerns about overuse.
Someday down the line, it's possible the Yankees could expand their budget to welcome both Murakami and Sasaki.
For now, though, their scouts will just have to watch and wait like everybody else.