All eyes are on Shohei Ohtani this Winter Meetings as insiders and fans wonder where he's going to sign and for how much. The Los Angeles Angels are one of several teams hoping to come to terms with the best free agent on the board as soon as possible.
Ohtani is undoubtedly the best free agent available, but not many teams both have his interest and have the ability to meet his gaudy price tag. The Angels are one of few with both, but not every team that wants Ohtani can get him.
Ohtani might be the best one, but fellow Japanese pitcher Yoshinobu Yamamoto is the most popular one with seemingly every big market team in on him. The Angels have always seemed to be Ohtani or bust, but now according to Alden Gonzalez of ESPN, they have their eyes on Yamamoto too.
LA Angels reportedly interested in arguably the second-best free agent available
Ohtani will earn the most money, but Yamamoto could earn the second-most. No, it won't be nearly as much as Shohei, but it won't be cheap to acquire possibly the best starting pitcher available that can actually pitch in 2024, and one of the most highly-saught after international free agents in a long time. Really since Ohtani.
Yamamoto is as close to a slam dunk as you can get when it comes to an international free agent. His seven seasons in Japan saw the right-hander post a 1.72 ERA in 188 appearances and 967.2 innings pitched. This past season was arguably Yamamoto's best, as he posted a 1.16 ERA in 24 starts and 171 innings of work. He fanned 176 batters compared to just 28 walks, displaying pinpoint command. What's even more surprising is the fact that he allowed a grand total of two home runs all season long.
Yamamoto unsurprisingly took home the Sawamura Award (Japanese Cy Young), his third straight. He comes stateside as one of the more accomplished pitchers we've seen, and yet he's just 25 years old. While most of the highly touted free agents are around or even over the age of 30 (Ohtani included), Yamamoto won't hit 30 for another five years. The Angels can give him eight or nine years and not worry about an incredibly steep decline. For a team in desperate need of rotation help, this is absolutely a no-brainer.
The issue with Yamamoto is the sheer volume of teams interested in his services. Every team that's in on Ohtani is also in on Yamamoto, seemingly as a fallback option. Teams like the Mets and Yankees that aren't as in on Ohtani are very in on Yamamoto. This makes it more difficult for the Angels to be the team not only to convince him, but to outbid other teams for his services. Especially while they wait on an Ohtani decision.
This Angels reported interest is a great thing, as Yamamoto is a super exciting free agent option. They feel like an unlikely landing spot, but you never know! The need is certainly there, and they've got money to spend.