February 23, 2024

Yoshinobu Yamamoto was on the Rams’ celebrity list Thursday night, alongside Shohei Ohtani for admission into the owner’s suite at SoFi Stadium.

The free-agent Japanese star, however, never made it to the game.

Turns out, he was busy finalizing business on the other side of town.

The big-spending Dodgers agreed to a record-breaking 12-year, $325-million contract with Yamamoto, according to a person with knowledge of the deal not authorized to discuss it publicly, beating out at least a dozen other teams to procure the most coveted starting pitcher on the free-agent market.

The deal, which is pending a physical, includes the most guaranteed money for a full-time pitcher in Major League Baseball history — even though Yamamoto, a three-time MVP in Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball league, has yet to throw a pitch in the big leagues.

The move also marks the Dodgers’ third major acquisition of what is now a $1.1-billion offseason, joining two-way phenom Shohei Ohtani, who signed a record 10-year, $700-million contract on Dec. 14, and veteran right-hander Tyler Glasnow, who signed a five-year, $136.5-million contract Saturday after being traded from Tampa Bay .

Ohtani, who added “recruiting coordinator” to his vast tool kit long before Thursday’s planned trip to the Rams game, seemingly helped make both deals happen. In addition to recording a video message to woo Glasnow, he joined fellow MVP award winners Mookie Betts and Freddie Freeman for last Tuesday’s sales pitch to Yamamoto at Dodger Stadium.

“It was important to Shohei that this wasn’t the one move we were gonna make, and I think anyone who has watched us operate over the years, we’re trying to add really good players at every turn,” Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman said at last week’s introductory news conference for Ohtani.

“We also gave our pledge [to Ohtani to keep adding], because that’s something that was incredibly important to [owner] Mark Walter, and it’s incredibly important to us, so those things were in perfect alignment.”

The 5-foot-10, 176-pound Yamamoto, who joined Ohtani to help Japan win last spring’s World Baseball Classic, was named Pacific League MVP for the third straight year in late November after winning his third straight Sawamura Award, the Japanese equivalent of the Cy Young Award.

Yamamoto, 25, officially was posted by the Orix Buffaloes on Nov. 20 after going 70-29 with a 1.82 ERA in 172 Nippon Professional Baseball games, striking out 922, walking 206 and yielding an 0.935 WHIP (walks plus hits per inning pitched) and just 36 homers in 172 innings. He went 1-0 with a 2.45 ERA with 12 strikeouts in 7⅓ World Baseball Classic innings.

Though not physically imposing, Yamamoto has a four-pitch repertoire that features a four-seam fastball that sits in the 94-to-95-mph range, with good ride from a lower release point, a nasty 90-mph, split-fingered fastball that features 20 inches of vertical drop, and a high-spin-rate, 77-mph curve with a whopping 77 inches of vertical drop.

Yamamoto was expected to command a deal of at least $200 million, and as more talent evaluators determined his stuff would play in the more competitive major leagues and more teams entered the bidding, his price tag went up.

That seemed to be of little concern to the Dodgers, who earlier this week were considering bids of up to $300 million, according to a person with knowledge of their plans unauthorized to speak about it publicly.

Japan's Yoshinobu Yamamoto delivers during a game against Mexico in the World Baseball Classic on March 20.

Japan’s Yoshinobu Yamamoto delivers during a game against Mexico in the World Baseball Classic on March 20.

(Wilfredo Lee / Associated Press)

When the New York Mets swooped in with a deal reportedly worth $325 million, however, the Dodgers agreed to match it.

According to multiple reports, Yamamoto will get a $50-million signing bonus and — unlike Ohtani — not have any of his annual $27.08-million salary deferred.

Per MLB rules for Japanese players posted by their clubs, the Dodgers also will pay the Buffaloes a posting fee of slightly more than $50 million; bringing their total expenditure on Yamamoto to north of $375 million.

The Dodgers’ 2024 payroll for competitive balance tax purposes is now believed to have surpassed $280 million, according to Cots Contracts, blowing the Dodgers past the third luxury tax threshold of $277 million. Because of that, any other signings the Dodgers make will incur a 92.5% surcharge.

Despite the cost, signing Yamamoto was a near-must for the Dodgers.

Ohtani will be limited to hitting while he recovers from Tommy John surgery next year. A rotation plagued by injuries and inexperience last season still was riddled with questions beyond that, from the return of onetime ace Walker Buehler from a second Tommy John surgery, to the development of rookie star Bobby Miller and several other young but unproven arms.

The acquisition of Glasnow, the former Rays ace, helped fortify the group. But adding Yamamoto — even with the uncertainties of his MLB transition — could send the team’s ceiling skyrocketing, turning the Dodgers into a clear favorite for a World Series title.

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