Whispers, rumors, offers submitted, it all happened in the team’s chase for Yoshinobu Yamamoto. The Phillies have been wanting to dip their toes into the Japanese baseball player market and tried to this offseason by making an offer to the right-hander, their first (public) attempt at bringing in a big free agent from the Pacific Rim. Ultimately, Yamamoto chose to join Shohei Ohtani in Los Angeles and while it’s disappointing that the Phillies were unable to acquire his services, it’s actually not a bad thing that all of this happened.
Was our interest piqued? Of course. As with any free agent, whenever there are connections being made to the Phillies, people use cautious optimism when thinking about the potential match.
With Yamamoto, there has been so much talk about how good he is that the thought of carrying a Wheeler-Yamamoto-Nola-Suarez-Walker-Sanchez rotation into the season seemed almost too good to be true. Turns out, it was.
Still, losing out on Yamamoto isn’t the worst thing in the world. There are three ways to look at it.
It’s laying the groundwork for the future
All throughout the team’s public comments on Yamamoto, which didn’t amount to much, there was talk of how the team desired to swim in the waters of Japanese baseball with a little more regularity. It’s market they’ve largely avoided, but with several big ticket players coming over in recent years (Ohtani, Kodai Senga, Yamamoto), not exploring players from that area of the world was a disservice to the organization. Teams are going to struggle to survive if they aren’t looking to add to the team from outside the United States. It’s why the Cuban market was tapped and so on in different countries in Latin America. Now, teams are building beautiful academies in the Dominican Republic in the hopes of luring more players there to get into whatever program they have. We can debate the “ick” factor of doing this with players at such a young age, but it’s become almost necessary to do so.
With Japan, the Phillies simply cannot afford to overlook that part of the world any longer, not with so many players trying to come to the United States. This year, it is Yamamoto and, to lesser degree, Shota Imanaga. In the near future, players like Roki Sasaki, Kazuma Okamoto and Munetaka Murakami are going to be posted, so if the Phillies are able to put forth presentations to at least get themselves a seat at the table with these free agents, like they reportedly did with Yamamoto, it can only help down the line when these other players get posted.
The Phillies might be a long shot for Yamamoto, but their pursuit of him is symbolic of their heightened attempts to establish a foothold in Asia...“There’s no question we’ve taken a significant jump,” [Dave] Dombrowski said. “The play (in Asia) continues to improve. The players continue to improve. You want to make sure you’re as thorough as possible.”...The team has had only two players from Japan: Tadahito Iguchi in 2007-08 and So Taguchi in ‘08. That number likely will increase in the future.
Will any deal with a player they desire to add come to fruition? That, of course, remains to be seen. The Yankees spent years getting ready for Yamamoto and still came up short. Any team can wave as much money as they want at a player. They cannot overcome a player’s desire to continue his career in a certain locale. Los Angeles offered Yamamoto what he wanted, both in terms of compensation and location, and nothing the Yankees could do could stop it. With the Phillies, they’ll have even more obstacles to overcome. The finalists for Yamamoto have all had success in signing a player from Japan in the past while the Phillies have only been able to get a player via trade. At some point, the train will come in and someone will sign with the team. The courtship of Yamamoto has laid the tracks for that to happen.
There’s money left over for trade season
The Phillies did make a “sizable” offer to Yamamoto, though the exact amount will likely never be known to us. The team was reportedly only going to spend whatever kind of money they were offering on a player like Yamamoto, so now it can be used in other ways, if they choose to use it at all. The first and most likely way is to re-sign Zack Wheeler to a long-term extension, but if they’re looking from outside the organization for help, the best use would be to see what is offered in July.
Of course, Yamamoto might be a special case. Though they would have liked to have gotten the Japanese pitcher’s signature, he’s probably the only player they’d be willing to spend that much on. A lot of the remaining free agents are shiny names, but at least from what the Phillies have signaled, they aren’t difference making enough to give out another $200 million deal. That money might be put to better use once teams decide they’re no longer in a playoff chase come late July and the Phillies are looking for upgrades or reinforcements. Having created an alternative budget for Yamamoto from the one they originally had planned to stick to might show they have the necessary funds to grab a player to help down the stretch. And of course, if they’re willing to spend....
The willingness to vault the tax thresholds
For so long, the mentality of not wanting the team to spend too much money has been at the forefront of a fanbase’s mind. That’s what the salary cap in the NBA, NFL and NHL can do to a person’s head. Luckily with the Phillies, they can spend as much as they choose and the taxation on it is actually not as much as we think. Did they have to pay the luxury tax this season? Sure, but a) it was only around $7 million, and b) it’s not your money. Why do we care that the team had to fork over that check?
What the pursuit of Yamamoto signals is that even with two $300 million player on the payroll, several more making nine figure in guarantees during their time in Philadelphia, the team is still willing to spend the money if it means adding a top tier talent to the organization. As a person who was forced to get excited over adding the remnants of Danny Tartabull as a free agent, well, we’ve come a long way together.
How far they’re willing to go is still to be determined. Are they willing to venture into the Cohen-level tax bracket? Are there even players available who can give them the boost they need to win a World Series? Those aren’t the questions that can be answered right now. Instead, we’re on a wait and see approach. They say it publicly that they’ll spend on the right player, but we’ll have to see if they actually do so. However, if they’re actions speak for their intentions, we should feel good about what they’re willing to do.