Pittsburgh Pirates: Estimating The Contracts For Top International Free Agents

The Pittsburgh Pirates should be aggressive on the international free agent market, but what could some of the top targets make this off-season?

Aug 4, 2021; Yokohama, Japan; Team Japan pitcher Yoshinobu Yamamoto (17) throws a pitch against
Aug 4, 2021; Yokohama, Japan; Team Japan pitcher Yoshinobu Yamamoto (17) throws a pitch against / Yukihito Taguchi-USA TODAY Sports
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Yoshinobu Yamamoto

Yohsinobu Yamamoto is a bonafide superstar in the NBP. The right-hander has been downright dominant in Japan, and that's an understatement. He currently has more seasons with an ERA under 2.00 than seasons with an ERA of 2.00 or worse, and his worst season as a pro ballplayer so far would be the best for many.

In 171 innings with the Orix Buffaloes, Yamamoto owns a 1.16 ERA, 0.86 WHIP, and 6.29 K:BB ratio. Yamamoto has only walked 4.3% of the batters he has faced and has allowed two home runs for a 0.11 HR/9 rate. While he's not striking out batters at an overpowering rate, he still has a quality 26.7% strikeout rate. His worst single-season ERA is 2.35, which he logged as an 18-year-old back in 2017. For many pitchers, having a sub-2.50 ERA is a career milestone. For Yamamoto, it was just a warm-up.

Yamamoto throws in the 94-96 MPH range but can crank the heat up when needed and tops out around 98-99. His best pitches are his curveball and splitter, which pair nicely with his already quality four-seamer. His fourth pitch is a cutter. Yamamoto finishes off his repertoire with a slider. While it's his worst pitch, it's still not a horrible offering, and he can throw it well.

There's a lot to like about Yamamoto's on-mound presence. He is one of the most athletic pitchers in the NBP. This has helped him master pinpoint-like command. Yamamoto's career walk rate is just 5.8%. This year, he's been especially good at limiting free passes.

The most hyped Japanese pitching prospect since Yamamoto was Masahiro Tanaka, who signed a seven-year, $155 million contract, an AAV of about $22 million. Like Yamamoto, Tanaka had more seasons with an ERA under 2.00 than over 2.00. Tanaka was a bonafide superstar in the NBP like Yamamoto is now. It's not as similar as Imanaga to Kikuchi or Senga, but there are very few comparisons you can make about Yamamoto. I think an AAV of at least $20 million is a guarantee for Yamamoto. The only question is how many years. I definitely think that he'll match Tanaka's first contract, at the minimum. That may put him outside the Pirates' price range, but it would be fun if the Pirates were at least aggressive in their pursuit of Yamamoto.