MLB's hot stove season hasn't been the same since shortly after Christmas, when star Japanese right-hander Yoshinobu Yamamoto signed a staggering 12-year, $325 million contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Yamamoto joined countryman Shohei Ohtani (who signed a record-setting contract of his own) in choosing Dodger blue this winter, making Dave Roberts' team the runaway winner of the offseason. There has been much speculation as to why the three-time Pacific League MVP chose the Dodgers over the other teams that were in feverish pursuit of him. Was it the opportunity to team up with Ohtani? Did the Dodgers offer more money or more years than the Yankees, Mets, and others? Or did he fall in love with L.A. while watching Quentin Tarantino's Once Upon a Time in Hollywood? Until recently, the baseball world lacked a clear answer.
Yoshinobu Yamamoto provided a definitive reason for what made him choose L.A. over his other deep-pocketed suitors
In an interview with the New York Post, Yamamoto dispelled the notion that he was always locked in on the West Coast, saying that the Dodgers' winning culture was what separated them from other prospective teams.
"I really got the impression that the Dodgers were very successful for a very long time," said Yamamoto through an interpreter. "And just that the atmosphere with the organization was really good."
It's hard to argue with Yamamoto's logic. Yamamoto did say that the Yankees and Mets were serious about signing him, and he was considering them as well. But, the Yankees have fallen from their perch in the '90s as baseball's preeminent winner, having gone 14 seasons without a World Series title. This past year saw the Bronx Bombers sink to fourth place in the highly competitive A.L. East, 19 games behind the precocious Orioles.
The Mets, even though they reportedly matched the 12-year, $325 million offer that Yamamoto ultimately accepted from L.A., were in no better position, having just endured a massively disappointing fourth-place finish of their own. The Amazin's last World Series win occurred 12 years before the 25-year-old Yamamoto was even born.
The fact that the Yankees and Mets play in baseball's toughest media market surely didn't help their case either. While the pressure is undoubtedly on Yamamoto in the wake of his record contract, can you imagine how the New York press would react if Yamamoto got shelled in his first two or three April starts?
In New York, Yamamoto would have been looked at as a savior, the man to finally drag the Yankees or the Mets back to the top of the baseball mountain. That's a lot of pressure, even for someone that has been called the best pitching prospect to ever come out of Japan. In L.A., Yamamoto is joining an ostensible superteam. Even before signing Ohtani and Yamamoto, the Dodgers boasted one of the most formidable rosters in recent baseball history, with Mookie Betts, Freddie Freeman, Walker Buehler, Will Smith, Max Muncy, and Clayton Kershaw (who only recently re-signed with the team, to the surprise of no one).
Only the Houston Astros have been able to surpass the Dodger's track record of consistent excellence in the last decade or so. L.A. has won 10 of the last 11 N.L. West pennants and over 100 games in five of the past seven seasons, winning one of its three World Series appearances, while Houston has won the A.L. West six of the last seven years, with two World Series wins in four appearances in that same time frame.
The Astros were never mentioned as a team thought to be in on the Yamamoto sweepstakes, which left the Dodgers as the clear winner in the end, much to the chagrin of Big Apple baseball fans.
It will be fascinating to see whether Yamamoto can possibly live up to the heightened expectations that his protracted free agency and extravagant contract have produced. Can he and Ohtani push the Dodgers from consistent winner to unbeatable juggernaut? With football in the rearview mirror and baseball about to take center stage, luckily we won't have long to find out.